You might have missed it, but the past month has opened a new page in Iran's confrontation with the West.
On November 28th, the Iranian government dramatically upped the stakes in the international standoff over its nuclear program when it approved a plan to build ten new uranium enrichment facilities in the near future. Never mind that the plan is much more rhetoric than reality. (In the six-and-a-half years since Iran's nuclear program became public, the country has managed to amass less than 10,000 centrifuges. At this rate, gathering the 500,000 units that Iranian officials desire could literally take hundreds of years.) What is important is that Iran has directly repudiated the IAEA's call, issued two days earlier, for it to cease enrichment work and close its newly-disclosed Qom site. The message could not be any clearer: Iran is not willing to alter its nuclear plans in any substantial way, despite the best diplomatic efforts of the Obama administration or anyone else.
Nor is Iran's brinksmanship confined to the nuclear front. Just days after Tehran's defiant nuclear declaration, news broke that Iran's Revolutionary Guards had detained five British yachtsmen in the Persian Gulf in an incident eerily similar to the Islamic Republic's March 2007 seizure of 15 British seamen. The British government is now said to be attempting to quietly negotiate their release, and Foreign Secretary David Miliband is taking pains to play down the incident as a minor misunderstanding, notwithstanding all of the evidence to the contrary.
It would be easy - and tempting - to dismiss this pair of provocative incidents simply as miscalculations on the part of the Iranian regime. But a more likely, and much more ominous, interpretation is that the Iranian leadership has grown increasingly confident in its strategic capabilities, and is now actively seeking confrontation with the West. The question, as always, is what the United States and its allies are prepared to do about it.
If the West's track record so far is any indication, Tehran doesn't have much to be worried about.