By Parisa Hafezi
DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran will destroy U.S. warships if its security is threatened in the Gulf, the head of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards told state TV on Thursday, a day after U.S. President Donald Trump warned Tehran over "harassment" of U.S. vessels.
"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."
Trump said on Wednesday he had instructed the U.S. Navy to fire on any Iranian ships that harass it at sea, but said later he was not changing the military’s rules of engagement.
Earlier this month, the U.S. military said 11 Revolutionary Guards naval vessels from the Guards navy came close to U.S. Navy and coast guard ships in the Gulf, calling the moves “dangerous and provocative”.
Tehran blamed its longtime adversary for the incident. On Thursday, Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, who represents U.S. interests in the country, over the recent tensions between Tehran and Washington.
"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 said.
"Americans have experienced our power in the past and must learn from it."
Tensions between Iran and the United States have escalated since 2018, when Trump withdrew from Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed crippling sanctions.
Animosity reached historic heights in early January when top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad. Iran retaliated on Jan. 9 by firing missiles at bases in Iraq where U.S. troops were stationed.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested that Trump should focus on saving U.S. service members from the new coronavirus outbreak.
"The U.S. military is hit by over 5,000 #covid19 infections.
...Also, U.S. forces have no business 7,000 miles away from home, provoking our sailors off our OWN Persian Gulf shores," Zarif tweeted.
Iran's clerical rulers consider the U.S. military presence in the Middle East a threat to the Islamic Republic's security.
Stoking antagonism over Tehran's nuclear and missile programs, Iran's Guards said on Wednesday they had successfully launched the country's first military satellite into orbit. The announcement drew protests from Washington.
The U.S. military says the same long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit could allow Tehran to launch longer-range missiles, perhaps someday with nuclear warheads.
Tehran denies U.S. assertions that such activity is a cover for ballistic missile development and says it has never pursued the development of nuclear weapons.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean)