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Iran Threatens to Destroy US Warships in Persian Gulf

FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2019, photo, made available by the U.S. Navy, a helicopter lifts off from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln as it transits the Strait of Hormuz.

The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Thursday said Iran would destroy American warships if they threaten Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf.

The warning came one day after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered conditional military strikes against Iranian vessels following a recent tense encounter between the two countries in the Gulf.

“I have ordered our naval forces to destroy any American terrorist force in the Persian Gulf that threatens the security of Iran's military or non-military ships,” Major General Hossein Salami said on Iranian state television. “Security of the Persian Gulf is part of Iran's strategic priorities.”

Trump tweeted Wednesday he had “instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.” But he said later he was not amending the U.S. military’s rules of engagement.

Days before Trump’s conditional order, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said its forces were conducting drills in the Gulf when they faced “unprofessional and provocative actions” from U.S. warships last week.

But a video released by the U.S. Navy shows small Iranian fast boats coming close to the American warships.

On Thursday, Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, who represents American interests in the country, over the recent tensions between Tehran and Washington.

U.S.-Iranian tensions have escalated since 2018, when Trump pulled out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with six world powers and reenacted damaging economic sanctions.

Tensions were significantly heightened in early January when a U.S. drone attack in Baghdad killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani. Iran retaliated six days later by firing missiles at Iraqi bases where U.S. troops were stationed.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took to Twitter Thursday, saying Trump should concentrate on protecting U.S. military personnel from the coronavirus pandemic.

"The U.S. military is hit by over 5,000 #COVID-19 infections. ...Also, U.S. forces have no business 7,000 miles away from home, provoking our sailors off our OWN Persian Gulf shores," Zarif said.

Hours before Trump’s warning on Wednesday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it launched the country’s first military satellite into orbit after several failed attempts.

The launch sparked renewed objections from the U.S. over Iran’s satellite program, maintaining it is being used to develop ballistic missiles that could be armed with nuclear warheads.

Iran has insisted its nuclear program is only for civilian purposes.