Iran Launches Three Satellites Amid Rising Tensions and Western Criticism
Iran reported a successful launch of three satellites into space on Sunday, utilizing a rocket that had experienced multiple failures in the past. The program, which the West alleges contributes to Tehran’s ballistic missile capabilities, comes against the backdrop of heightened tensions in the Middle East, primarily fueled by Israel’s ongoing conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Despite not intervening militarily in the Israel-Hamas conflict, Iran faces internal pressure to respond, especially following a recent Islamic State suicide bombing and attacks by proxy groups like Yemen’s Houthi rebels. A drone attack on Sunday, attributed to Iranian-backed Iraqi militias, resulted in the deaths of three U.S. troops and injuries to at least 25 others in Jordan.
The launch, captured in footage released by Iranian state television, showcased the Simorgh rocket taking off from the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Semnan province. The satellites, named Mahda, Kayhan-2, and Hatef-1, serve various purposes, including research, global positioning, and communication.
Despite five previous failed launches in the Simorgh program, the latest attempt bore the slogan “We Can” in Farsi, perhaps referencing past setbacks. The U.S. intelligence community has expressed concerns about the dual-use nature of the Simorgh, suggesting it could expedite Iran’s development of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The United States has previously criticized Iran’s satellite launches as violating a U.N. Security Council resolution. While U.N. sanctions related to Iran’s ballistic missile program lapsed in October, the U.S. continues to oppose Tehran’s activities in this regard.
Under former President Hassan Rouhani, Iran had slowed its space program to ease tensions with the West. However, under the leadership of President Ebrahim Raisi, the program has gained momentum. Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have escalated, exacerbated by the collapse of the 2015 nuclear deal.
France, Germany, and the United Kingdom condemned Iran’s satellite launch on January 20, expressing concerns about its potential contribution to long-range ballistic missile development. Iran, maintaining the largest ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East, faces increased scrutiny as it advances its nuclear capabilities.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) January 28, 2024
While the U.S. military acknowledged the success of the January 20 launch, the State Department reiterated concerns about Iran’s space launch vehicle programs, viewing them as a pathway to enhancing ballistic missile systems.
In a separate development on Sunday, the United Kingdom’s Defense Ministry confirmed its warship shot down a drone launched by Houthi rebels from Yemen. The HMS Diamond intercepted the drone in the Red Sea, emphasizing the need to protect freedom of navigation in the region.
The Houthis, who did not acknowledge the attack, have previously targeted U.S. and British ships as part of their broader campaign, ostensibly aimed at influencing Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip. However, their attacks increasingly disrupt international trade with tenuous or no links to the ongoing conflict.