The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps launched its first satellite into space on Wednesday, which dramatically reveals what experts describe as a secret military space program that could advance the development of its ballistic missile amid wider tensions between the Islamic Republic and the United States. The guard said it placed the “Noor” or “Light” satellite in low Earth orbit. While the US, Israel and other countries immediately refused to confirm that the satellite had orbited, their criticism suggested they thought the launch was taking place.
The launch comes as Iran has lifted all restrictions on its torn nuclear deal with world powers that President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled America out of in 2018. Trump’s decision sparked a series of months of escalating attacks that culminated in a US drone attack in January that caused death. a top Iranian general in Iraq, followed by Tehran launching ballistic missiles at US soldiers in Iraq. As the world struggles with the coronavirus pandemic and historically low oil prices, the launch of the missile could signal a new willingness to take risks by Iran. Trump himself tweeted later that he told the US Navy to “shoot and destroy all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,” increasing energy prices and increasing the risk of conflict.
“Now that you have the maximum pressure campaign, Iran has not much to lose,” said Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. The three-stage satellite launch departed from Iran’s central desert, the Guard said, without elaborating further.
Hinz said the launch based on state media images appeared to have happened on a previously unrecognized watch base near Shahroud, Iran, about 330 kilometers northeast of Tehran. The base is located in Semnan Province, where the Imam Khomeini Spaceport is located, from which Iran’s civilian space program operates. Paramilitary forces said they used a “Qased” or “Messenger” satellite carrier to place the device in space, a previously unheard of system. It described the system as using both liquid and solid fuel. With such a system, Iran may be able to fuel a missile faster, which is crucial in an offensive weapon system, Hinz said, stressing that more information was needed about the launch.
Wednesday was the 41st anniversary of the watch’s founding by the late leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. An image of the rocket carrying the satellite showed that it carried a Quran verse usually recited during a journey, as well as a drawing of the Earth with the word Allah in Farsi around it. It remained unclear what the satellite was carrying. “Today, the powerful armies of the world do not have a comprehensive defense plan without being in space, and achieving this superior technology that will take us into space and expand the field of our capabilities is a strategic achievement,” said General Hossein Salami , the head of the guard.
The Garde, which manages its own military infrastructure in parallel with Iran’s mainstream armed forces, is a hardline accountable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. International criticism of the launch came quickly.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “Iran must be held accountable for what it has done.” The Israeli Foreign Ministry described the launch as a “facade for the continued development of advanced missile technology in Iran.” German Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger warned that “the Iranian missile program has a destabilizing effect on the region and is also unacceptable given our European security interests.” U.S. Army Major Rob Lodewick, a Pentagon spokesman, told The Associated Press that U.S. officials will continue to follow Iran’s program. “While Tehran does not currently have intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), his desire to have a strategic counterpart to the United States may prompt him to develop an ICBM,” said Lodewick.
The US claims that such satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution calling on Iran not to engage in activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Iran, which has long said it is not looking for nuclear weapons, previously maintained its satellite launches and missile tests have no military component. The Guard is now launching its own satellite and is now questioning it.
(This story has not been edited by staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)