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Should Americans be frightened by Iran's recent missile tests?

Don't panic! ... Your war questions answered

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At least twice last week, Iran's military tested several ballistic missiles. Because footage of the test launches was recorded and released to the public by Iran's military, the tests were widely depicted in the Western media as Iranian saber-rattling.

This writer strongly disagrees with that interpretation. Dick-waving is a far more appropriate metaphor for ballistic missile tests than saber-rattling.

Metaphor preference notwithstanding, Western leaders were loudly displeased.

Under-Secretary of State William Burns called the tests "provocative." The spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Iran's missile program "must be of grave concern to the entire international community."

And Eric Chevallier, spokesman for France's foreign ministry said, "These missile tests can only reinforce the concerns of the international community," though, honestly, it sounded more like "Zeez missile tests ken unly ray-inforz ze concernz of ze international communitay," when he said it.

Why is Iran testing its missiles now? Because it wants the United States and Israel to back off. Attack our nuclear facilities, says Iran's government, and there will be consequences.

What consequences? An aide to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says, "Tel Aviv and the U.S. fleet in the Persian Gulf would be the targets that would be set on fire in Iran's crushing response."

Should Americans and Israelis be concerned?

At least a little bit, sure.

Among the missiles Iran tested was the so-called Shahab-3. Though critics say it lacks the wit and impish charm that made Shahabs 1 and 2 such a hit with audiences, the Shahab-3 is a serious weapon. It has a range of 2,000 kilometers – which is, according to the Pentagon, some sort of Euro-commie-gay unit of measurement that means approximately 1,200 miles in American. A Shahab-3 can easily hit American targets in Iraq or the Persian Gulf, as well as Israeli cities.

Like its close cousin, North Korea's No-Dong missile (see what I mean about dick-waving), the Shahab-3 is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Iran, however, doesn't have a nuclear warhead. The conventional explosives Iran is capable of lobbing with the Shahab-3 can knock down buildings and kill a lot of people, but they are not a strategic threat to Israel or the United States. The United States and Israel are vastly more capable of dropping explosives on Iran than Iran is capable of dropping bombs on others. The United States and Israel have overwhelming conventional military superiority. Additionally, both nations are nuclear weapons powers.

Americans and Israelis have good reason to be upset at Iran's leadership for its belligerence. But they have every bit as much reason to be upset at our/their own leaders. In the Middle East's ongoing game of tit-for-tat, Iran's missile launches were definitely tat.

The tit was last month's Israeli air exercise over the eastern Mediterranean. More than 100 U.S.-made Israeli fighter jets rehearsed the maneuvers required for Israeli jets to attack the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility in Iran. Keep in mind, Israel has twice launched air attacks on neighboring nuclear facilities. Israel attacked an Iraqi nuclear base in 1981 and a Syrian site last year.

A more recent tit is the U.S. Navy's Exercise Stake Net – a naval exercise in the Persian Gulf just off Iran's southern coast.

The exercise is not in Iranian waters, but is every bit as provocative to Iranians as an Iranian military exercise in the Gulf of Mexico would be to Americans.

Will this tit-for-tat escalate into a real war? It's quite possible.

The United States and Israel have repeatedly stated that they will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran – a not-so-coded threat meaning that if Iran does not agree to give up its nuclear fuel-enrichment program, Israel or the United States will bomb its nuclear facilities.

Iran says it doesn't want war and that its nuclear facilities are its own business. Iran says it wants nuclear power for electricity, not weapons (a claim bolstered, funnily enough, by a major U.S. intelligence report last year).

Iran's leaders keep saying they won't attack the United States or Israel unless they're attacked first. Unlike its American and Israeli counterparts, Iran is not in the habit of late of launching pre-emptive wars.

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