Eleven days after the US RQ-170 Sentinel drone crashed in eastern Iran, 225 kilometres (140 miles) from the Afghanistan border, it was apparently presented on Iranian State TV yesterday afternoon.
Debate over the authenticity of the displayed aircraft will continue. It was shown with a broken and repaired left wing, while --- for unexplained reasons --- it was placed on a platform, rather than shown with its landing gear intact.
But today we will be even more interested in watching the politics around the event. Having broken its 11-day silence over the drone, the regime is likely to press its campaign today. Already the Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaei has sent an official letter to the Security Council, the General Assembly, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condeming the "blatant and provocation" violation of Iranian airspace.
Khazaei's letter “call[ed] for the condemnation of such aggressive acts and implementation of effective and clear measures in line with the UN responsibilities to end these dangerous and illegal moves and to maintain regional and international peace and security in accordance with the UN Charter".
Expect Tehran Friday Prayers to be used to rally domestic anger and defiance while sending a further message to the US and the international community. So far, however, no response has come from either President Ahmadinejad or the Supreme Leader.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has to re-consider its position. The immediate effect of the drone furour has been to blunt the presentation of the US sanctions offensive. Over the last three weeks, Washington --- having fumbled the handling of both the alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador to the US and the latest report on Iran's nuclear programme --- had rallied with its plan, co-ordinated with Canada and European allies, to ratchet up presure on Iran's economy and financial sector. The Iranian regime had given that campaign an unexpected boost with its own bungling over the attack on the British Embassy last week.
The US has appeared confused and more than a bit unsettled by the drone affair --- while the Islamic Republic had held its tongue, American officials were sending out conflicting messages via their favoured reporters in Washington.
So, only hours before the Tehran display, the Administration had tried to recover with a tough-guy defiance: "yeah, we sent the drone over Iran; we've been doing it for years; it's all part of our successful progamme to disrupt Iran's nuclear efforts; a drone crashed; so what?" That pose was soon overtaken, even if President Obama issued a holding statement about "the toughest sanctions that Iran has ever experienced", while refraining from even a word about the drone.
Obama and his officials are now caught between two unattractive positions. Pull back the tough-guy pose and the Administration will not only look weak; its sanctions push could be stalled as some countries have to play defence against the Tehran challenge, and others --- step up, Russia and China --- use the warnings against US aggression in a blocking maneouvre.
Push too much with the defiance, however, and the Administration may push itself into a corner for aggressive steps that it does not want to pursue. This morning The Washington Post --- its editors long on Alpha-Male language but short on thought --- is already criticising Obama's advisors, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, "a public spelling out of reasons against military action". Congress will be on the front foot with its insistence that the US slap sanctions on Iran's Central Bank, a move resisted even by Washington's European allies because of the likely economic blowback on Western economies.