Last week, the front pages of the world press blossomed with photos of four Iranian rockets, fired in salvo, heading skyward.
The image was powerful, and the message reinforced by the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Should Israel attack Iran, said Ali Shira, Tel Aviv will be "set on fire."
U.S. reaction was swift and bristling. "Rice Says U.S. Will Defend Gulf," declared the headline over the AP story that began:
"Condoleezza Rice flexed America's muscles in the Middle East Thursday, forcefully warning Iran the U.S. won't ignore threats and will take any action necessary to defend friends and interests in the Persian Gulf. ...
"Rice said Iran's leaders should understand that Washington won't dismiss provocations from Tehran and has the ability to counter them. 'I don't think the Iranians are too confused, either, about the capability and the power of the United States to do exactly that.'"
And what were the results of last week's missile crisis in the Gulf? Tensions rose, strengthening Tehran's embattled Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And oil prices shot from $136 a barrel to a record $147.
That $11-a-barrel spike alone translates into $25 million a day in fresh revenue for Ahmadinejad and Co. And as the United States imports 13 million of the 20 million barrels we daily consume, that $11 spike in price translates into $143 million more sucked out of the U.S. economy every day -- into the coffers of Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and OPEC.
Can we not see who benefits and who pays for this war talk?
Every day the war drums beat, the mullahs get richer and we get poorer. Which raises the question. Was this mini-missile crisis cooked up by the mullahs to rip off Uncle Sam? For by week's end it appeared the Americans had been had, big-time.
Saturday's New York Times reported that that photo of the four Iranian missiles fired in salvo had been doctored.
One rocket appears twice in the same photo. The large missile, on inspection, was not the new Shahab-3b, which has a range of 1,200 miles, but a Shahab-3a, with a range of 900 miles. It is no longer in production.
The missiles fired with the Shahab-3a turned out to be Scuds, a short-range missile that is no threat to Israel.
The second day's firing turns out to have been of a single anti-ship missile. Iranian TV showed one firing from three angles, making it appear as though three missiles had been fired in succession.
"The bottom line is that the Iranians are tweaking our noses," said Charles Vick, an expert on Iran's missile forces.
Under Secretary of State Nick Burns then splashed cold water on Iran's alleged crash program to acquire nuclear weapons.