Iran announced Saturday a ‘new record’ satellite launch as part of its space program that many fear could be a cover for the regime to expand it ballistic missile program.
Official Iranian news agencies published images of a rocket blasting off, claiming that it carried and placed a homemade satellite to an orbit 750 kilometers above earth.
The announcement –not yet verified independently– comes days after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) used ballistic missiles to hit targets in three neighboring countries, and on the same day its proxies launched several ballistic missiles at a US base in Iraq.
The US military said, “most of the missiles were intercepted by the base’s air defense systems while others impacted on the base.” At least one Iraqi soldier was wounded in the attack and several US troops had to be examined for “traumatic brain injuries,” according to the US Central Command.
IRGC-affiliated media on Sunday morning focused on the news of “possible brain injuries” to US troops, amid a wave of popular sentiments on Persian social media about Israel’s successes in eliminating senior IRGC officers in targeted strikes.
Iran insists that its satellite launches are for communications purposes, but many see the regime’s ‘space program’ as part of its missile program, especially since both are driven and governed by the IRGC.
A recent US intelligence assessment suggested that launching satellites “shortens the timeline” for Iran to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile. It is all the more worrying, experts say, since Iran is on the verge of nuclear capability, according to most intelligence estimates and recent International Atomic Energy Agency reports.
Earlier this week, the IAEA director general said Iran has enough enriched uranium to make “several” nuclear weapons, and it faces no “technical obstacle” to do so.
The US government maintains that Iran’s satellite launches are in contravention of the United Nations Security Council Resoluton 2231, that formalized the 2014 JCPOA nuclear agreement. Nevertheless, the Biden administration allowed UN other UN restrictions related to Iran’s ballistic missile program to expire in October 2023, ignoring calls for its renewal.
Biden critics say his Iran policy has been too soft and has emboldened the regime and its regional proxies to attack US interests.
“Exactly three years into the Biden Admin’s “clear-eyed hard-nosed diplomacy” with Iran, the regime is firing 15 ballistic missiles at our bases in Iraq,” former US state department advisor on Iran Gabriel Noronha posted on X. “And he didn’t get Soleimani for it either.”
Last week, just after he authorized airstrikes on Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, Biden said “I’ve already delivered the message to Iran. They know not to do anything.” Since then, the Houthis have carried out more attacks in the Red Sea, including on a US warship, and armed groups supported by Iran have launched more missiles against US forces in Iraq.
Biden has admitted that the airstrikes against the Houthis have failed to stop their attacks on ships in the Red Sea.
A report in the Washington Post Sunday suggests that after ten days of “unsuccessful” airstrikes, the administration may soon opt for a “large-scale sustained military operation” against the Houthis.
That could bring the US one step closer to a direct confrontation with Iran, first because Houthi operations are directed by IRGC commanders, according to Reuters quoting Iranian and regional sources, and second because if it fails, the Biden administration might be left with no choice but to consider targeting IRGC directly.