The signal could not have been clearer or louder. Steve Forbes, one of America's most prominent businessmen, has used the pages of his magazine to declare, "War with Iran is Coming!"
In the heat of battle the ayatollahs may not be able to contain themselves. Iran will also attempt to have its agents carry out terrorist acts around the world, particularly in the U.S....Israel will find itself embroiled in a horrific conflict....Much as the White House might wish otherwise, the U.S. will become involved. In fact, President Obama could well respond to the conflict the way he did when he went after Osama bin Laden: give U.S. forces the green light to do whatever is necessary on water and in the air to help the Israelis.
Having set out Armageddon, Forbes then advised, "This conflict will obviously also roil the financial markets. Best advice to investors: Don’t panic."
Alongside Forbes' panicky non-panic guidance, the conservative Weekly Standard --- following a similar question in the not-so-conservative New York Times --- pondered, "Can Israel Take Out Iran’s Nuclear Facilities?" --- and a pundit named Tucker Carlson tried to out-do every other pundit: "Iran deserves to be annihilated. I think they’re lunatics. I think they’re evil."
On Wednesday, two developments on the nuclear front guaranteed that this chatter will get louder. A two-day visit by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which had held out cautious optimism of co-operation of Tehran's nuclear programme, collapsed into an IAEA statement that Iran had blocked access to a key military site.
Hours later, the Supreme Leader made a nationally-televised speech. The choreography --- Ayatollah Khamenei, alongside the photographs of five assassinated scientists, addressing an audience of their colleagues --- supported the message of defiance. The pursuit of nuclear weapons is a "sin", the Supreme Leader reminded; however, no amount of pressure from the "West" would force Tehran to give up its nuclear research and development.
So is the War coming? Not necessarily.
Iranian media offer no clues as to why Tehran suddenly bolted the door on the IAEA --- to do so would require discussion about the Parchin military facility that was the immediate centre of the dispute --- but 2 and 2 make the 4 that the Supreme Leader has stamped his authority on the matter. He was the one who struck the pose, both to a domestic audience and to anyone watching outside Iran.
At the same time, Iranian outlets are not pressing the matter this morning. Press TV, for example, is focusing on Russia's opposition to sanctions on Tehran and on the declaration of President Ahmadinejad and Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev against foreign intervention in Syria. Fars headlines with the Parliamentary elections.
And, in the one article directly related to nuclear matters, the Islamic Republic News Agency features the comment of Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian envoy to the IAEA, that negotiations continue.
Put it all together and it looks like Iran --- and, specifically, the Supreme Leader --- gave the IAEA a shove and now steps back. Your move, "West".
The IAEA's report on its trip to Tehran appears on Friday. Watch carefully for the reaction from Washington, Tehran, and other capitals. The important signal will not be in the rhetoric --- I can already script that --- but in the position on further talks about Iran's nuclear programme.
Soltanieh's statement, which will probably go un-noticed outside Iran, is the tip-off that the Islamic Republic will not shut the door on the possibility of those talks. In part, that will be to avoid blame for any break-down and subsequent conflict; in part, that is because some Iranians, notably President Ahmadinejad, still want the discussions.
The onus will be on the "West". Last week, both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the European Union's foreign policy representative, Catherine Ashton, responded to a Tehran proposal for renewed talks with "cautious optimism". If that opening is withdrawn, leaving no channel for discussion, then the threats and the doom-saying --- it will be a "horrific conflict" but "Don't Panic" --- may take over.