The Pentagon’s top brass on Wednesday gave a strong endorsement to President Trump’s tweet ordering the Navy to “shoot down and destroy” Iranian boats harassing U.S. vessels in the Persian Gulf.
Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon briefing Wednesday he appreciated Mr. Trump’s message and said the president’s intention was to emphasize that any warship has the inherent right of self-defense.
“I like that the president warned an adversary. That’s what he’s doing: He’s providing a warning,” Gen. Hyten said.
“If you want to go down that path, we will come and we will come large. So don’t go down that path,” Gen. Hyten added. “We understand that direction and every commander deployed has the ability to execute.”
Gen. Hyten and Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist repeatedly declined to answer whether Mr. Trump’s tweet, which came days after video showing nearly a dozen Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps speedboats weaving dangerously around a U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships in the Persian Gulf, was being formalized as an actual order changing the rules of engagement with the IRGC.
Mr. Norquist also described the president’s tweet a warning, and suggested it gave greater force to the authority U.S. commanders already have in the escalating confrontation with Iran.
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“The president issued a warning to the Iranians,” Norquist said. “What he was emphasizing is all of our ships retain the right of self-defense and people need to be very careful in their interactions to understand the inherent right of self-defense.”
In the most recent incident last week, an IRGC vessel appeared to come within 10 yards of an American ship. A trained U.S. commander can tell the difference between hostile and non-hostile actions from another vessel, Gen. Hyten said Wednesday.
“If you come across and you’re at a safe distance and you’re waving — that’s one thing. If you have a gun and you point it at me, that’s another thing,” he said. “We know what that line is [and] we will respond. I think the president’s message was crystal clear.”