Iran reports 2nd day of launches

The confrontation between Tehran and Washington seemed to sharpen Thursday as Iran said it tested missiles for a second day and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. would defend its allies and protect its interests against an attack.

The test prompted a show of force from Israel as well.

Rice said Iran's leaders should understand that the U.S. 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,” she said.

Though the White House has repeatedly asserted it prefers diplomacy to war, Rice used some of the administration's most direct language yet to make clear the U.S. is strengthening its military presence to counter Iran in the strategic Persian Gulf region and is prepared to use force. She also referred to U.S. arms sales to Gulf allies and military aid to Israel as protections against any threat from Iran.

“We take very, very strongly our obligation to help our allies defend themselves, and no one should be confused about that,” Rice said in Tbilisi, Georgia, before returning to Washington from a trip to Eastern Europe.

Her remarks were part of a rising rhetorical and strategic face-off between Iran on one side and the U.S. and Israel on the other. The posturing has raised concerns worldwide about a possible shooting war.

The most likely scenario for that would be an Israeli strike to reduce or eliminate the threat that Iran could soon field a nuclear weapon. Israel could theoretically launch an airstrike against one or more of Iran's known nuclear sites and at least set back the timetable for a bomb.

Israel has announced no such intention, although neither it nor its U.S. protector will rule out the possibility and Israel has sent multiple signals that it is ready to defend itself.

On Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said his country “proved in the past that it won't hesitate to act when its vital security interests are at stake.”

Also Thursday, Israel displayed its latest spy plane in what defense officials said was a show of strength in response to Iranian war games and missile tests. Last month, Israel's military sent warplanes over the eastern Mediterranean for a large military exercise that U.S. officials described as a possible rehearsal for a strike on Iran's atomic project.

Iran's latest testing was announced hours after Rice spoke Thursday. Wednesday's tests were conducted at the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway at the mouth of the Persian Gulf through which up to 40 percent of the world's oil passes. Oil prices rose Thursday after the new announcement.

A U.S. official said analysts had determined Tehran launched seven ballistic missiles and two rockets on the first night. But it appeared that only one weapon — an anti-ship missile — was launched on the second night, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The New York Times contributed.