Iran has fired back at President Trump's provocative Wednesday tweet instructing the US Navy to "shoot down and destroy" Iranian gunboats in the gulf which "harass our ships at sea".
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded by mocking the rising coronavirus spread among US military ranks, a month after the outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt diverted the nuclear carrier from its mission in the Western Pacific.
"The US military is hit by over 5000 Covid-19 infections," Zarif said on Twitter Thursday. "Trump should attend to their needs, not engage in threats cheered on by Saddam's terrorists. Also, US forces have no business 7,000 miles away from home, provoking our sailors off our OWN Persian Gulf shores."
Sleepy Joe thought this was OK. Not me! https://t.co/VgIlA4fJKF— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 22, 2020
And more crucially at a moment the US has been conducting military maneuvers in the Persian Gulf since late March, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Hossein Salami threatened directly in a fiery new speech to destroy any American warships that act aggressively against Iranian ships.
He said the US Navy will be met with a “crushing response”:
“I have ordered our naval forces to destroy any American terrorist force in the Persian Gulf that threatens security of Iran’s military or non-military ships,” Major General Hossein Salami said. “Security of the Persian Gulf is part of Iran’s strategic priorities.”
“I am telling the Americans that we are absolutely determined and serious in defending our national security, our water borders, our shipping safety, and our security forces, and we will respond decisively to any sabotage,” Salami added.
The US military is hit by over 5000 #covid19 infections. @realdonaldtrump should attend to their needs, not engage in threats cheered on by Saddam's terrorists.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) April 23, 2020
Also, US forces have no business 7,000 miles away from home, provoking our sailors off our OWN Persian Gulf shores. pic.twitter.com/7CjzabkyVK
“Americans have experienced our power in the past and must learn from it,” he threatened further in a likely reference to the Jan.8 retaliation attack against US bases in Iraq, days after the US assassination by drone of the IRGC's Qassem Soleimani.
Meanwhile, undeterred by Iran's own rhetoric heightening in a tit-for-tat way, Trump retweeted the below political cartoon later in the day Wednesday, related to his "ordering" the Navy to attack Iranian vessels that come close (though many observers have noted he stopped short of changing the official rules of engagements):
For everybody wondering 'why now?', Trump's command follows the release of footage showing Iranian ships harassing Navy warships.
But for both sides it all could be but a brief distraction from more pressing crises at home, given Tehran is struggling with a brutal coronavirus outbreak that has forced the government to start reopening its economy for fear of an all-out collapse. Perhaps to a lesser degree, American is also facing this dilemma.
And the US's push to enforce sanctions and add further strain has appalled some European allies, who have moved to try and shore up the regime via a facility that bypasses the dollar-based financial system to transact directly with the Iranians.