On Wednesday, President Donald Trump tweeted that he has ordered the US Navy to “shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats” that harass U.S. ships.

Trump stated, “I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”

Senior Pentagon officials later on Wednesday said the tweet was a lawful order but it did not represent a change in engagement rules.

David Norquist, the Deputy Defense Secretary, told reporters at the Pentagon, “The President issued an important warning to the Iranians. 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.”

The Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – Gen. John Hyten – stated the military will “apply that clear direction from the commander in chief into lawful orders” which makes it clear to Iran that there is a line they can’t cross that would prompt an response.

“We don’t need any more direction in order to do that. I think the President’s message was crystal clear and we don’t need any more actions,” he added.

The tweet is Trump’s new inflammatory warning to Tehran in the midst of his criticism of the current coronavirus pandemic and raises concerns about the prospect of miscalculation between the two long-time rivals.

Tensions intensified sharply in January, when the US killed Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s second most influential official and Earlier this month Trump reported that his administration had information, without providing any facts, that “Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on US troops and/or assets in Iraq.” He warned of paying a “heavy price” for these actions on US Navy.

Mike Pompeo, State secretary, also commented on the tweet in a State Department briefing stating that the President was clear to the Departments of State and Defense “to do everything we need to do to make sure that we protect and defend our officers, our military officers, our diplomats around the world, to continue to ensure that they are secure and safe.”

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