MANAMA, Bahrain -- U.S. Navy ships bombarded an Iranian oil platform today in retaliation for a missile attack on a U.S.-flagged ship and Iran threatened a 'crushing response,' warning the United States 'has got itself into a full-fledged war.'
President Reagan, through White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, said the attack from U.S. ships came after numerous warnings to Iran about the consequences of attacks on shipping in the gulf.
'It is a prudent yet restrained response to the unlawful use of force against the United States and to numerous violations of the rights of other non-belligerents,' the president said in Washington.
Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger said four ships launched 1,000 rounds of 5-inch shells on the twin oil towers on an inactive oil platform, which he said had been used to launch attacks on gulf shipping.
The attack was in response to a missile -- believed to be a Silkworm fired by Iran -- that struck the U.S.-flagged Sea Isle City Friday, injuring 18 crewmen. The Kuwaiti ship, one of 11 re-flagged tankers under U.S. military protection, was the second tanker struck by a missile in Kuwaiti waters in two days.
Kamal Kharrazi, head of the Iranian War Information Headquarters, issued the first Iranian reaction, saying, 'The United States will receive a crushing response for its criminal attack on Iranian oil platforms in the Persian Gulf.'
The official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted him as saying, 'The United States has actually got itself involved in a full-fledged war with the Islamic Republic. The United States has entered a swamp from which it can in no way get out safely.'
IRNA also reported the Iranian as saying, 'heavy losses were inflicted' on the platform, with some crewmen injured.
Earlier, as rumors of a U.S. response swirled around the gulf, Tehran radio quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying, 'Any U.S. military aggression against Iran will certainly be the beginning of an extensive clash in the Persian Gulf and amidst this our principled policy is to confront any act which escalates tension.'
'Because this region belongs to our nation and other nations of the region ... we shall decisively answer any new aggressive measure of the U.S.A.'
The Iranian Foreign Ministry also said, 'The countries of this region should note that the flame rising from any hostile measure of the U.S.A. will not be limited and shall engulf the entire region.'
Tehran radio also denied Iran was involved in the Sea Isle City attack.
'We have not accepted any responsibility for the attack on that ship,' the radio quoted a War Information Headquarters spokesman as saying. 'But, whatever has happened is the natural consequences of America's actions in the Persian Gulf.'
The platform, originally built in three parts, had twin towers and a derrick. The southern platform was 66 feet above the water and the top of the derrick on the northern platform was 201 feet above the waves, the Pentagon said. Anti-aircraft guns had been mounted on both, it said.
Iraq, involved in a 7-year-old war with Iran, had destroyed a central portion of the platform, a third tower, in November 1986, the Pentagon said. No oil had been drilled from the platform for more than a year, Weinberger said.
Today's bombardment was the third confrontation in the gulf between Iran and the United States, the two previous ones involving U.S. forces firing on Iranian vessels. But both Weinberger and Reagan said they did not want further confrontation.
'The United States has no desire for confrontation with Iran,' Fitzwater said. But he also warned, 'The government of Iran should be under no illusions about our determination and ability to protect our ships and our interest against unprovoked attacks.'
The official Soviet news agency Tass said the U.S. raid was the result of Washington's rejection of U.N. peace efforts in the region and was to conducted to cover up U.S. embarrassment over the secret sale of weapons to Iran in the Iran arms sale scandal.
'The United States has undertaken an act of armed aggression again Iran,' Tass said. 'The escalation of hostilities followed the rejection by the U.S. administration of the idea of ensuring the safety of navigation in the Persian Gulf by concerted effort within the United Nations framework.'
The Pentagon said Navy search and rescue teams had found no Iranians dead or wounded in the attack, which it said was preceded by a warning about 20 minutes before the attack.
Merchant ships in the area also were warned and Washington notified Britain, France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, West Germany and Japan before the attack, the Pentagon said.
A Liberian-flagged ship was struck Thursday in Kuwaiti waters. Iran also did not claim responsibility for that attack.
Reagan's written statement said, 'Iran's unprovoked attacks upon U.S. and other non-belligerent shipping, and particularly laying of mines and firing of Silkworm missiles which have hit U.S. flag vessels, have come in spite of numerous messages from the government of the United States to the government of Iran warning of the consequences.'
He also called the attack 'a lawful exercise of the right of self-defense enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and is being so notified to the president of the United Nations Security Council.'
Iran said any U.S. attack would be counter to the U.N. call for a cease-fire.
Since U.S. ships were deployed in the gulf to protect re-flagged Kuwaiti tankers from assaults, an Amry helicopter crippled an Iranian ship accused of laying mines and other gunships sank two Iranian patrol boats and nearly destroyed two others.
But today's bombardment was the first direct retaliation for an Iranian attack against a U.S.-flagged vessel.
The destroyers that took part in the attack were identified as the Kidd, the Hoel, the Leftwich and the Young. All were part of the U.S. Mideast Force in the gulf, the Pentagon said.
In addition, it said a fifth ship, the Stanley, was stationed between the Iranian coast and the oil platform to guard against an air attack from the Iranian mainland. Weinberger said an Iranian plane took off, but turned back.
Weinberger said the oil platform, some 120 miles east of Bahrain, had been used for radar surveillance to report on convoy movements and as a base for for small boat attacks against 'non-belligerent shipping' in the central gulf.
Congressional leaders were summonded to the White House for a meeting Sunday night, apparently to tell them of Reagan's decision to launch the attack.