Iran launches a satellite that is part of a program.com2F532F032Fa8ea57190a4056d06a4797eb5a402F37220bd1f8e042b2baa5d30a0978b120

Iran launches a satellite that is part of a program criticized by the West as regional tensions rise – The Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) — Iran said Saturday that it had successfully launched a satellite into its highest orbit yet, the latest for a program that the West fears will improve Tehran's ballistic missiles.

The announcement comes as tensions rise across the Middle East over Israel's ongoing war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip and just days after Iran and Pakistan launched airstrikes in each other's countries.

Meanwhile, the U.S. carried out new strikes Saturday against Yemen's Houthi rebels, who have attacked ships in the Red Sea during the war, and Iran-backed militias in Iraq attacked a base housing U.S. troops, causing injuries several employees.

The Iranian Soraya satellite was placed into orbit around 750 kilometers above the Earth's surface using its three-stage Qaem-100 rocket, the state news agency IRNA said. It was not immediately acknowledged what the satellite was doing, although Telecommunications Minister Isa Zarepour described the launch as having a payload of 50 kilograms (110 pounds).

The launch was part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's space program alongside Iran's civilian space program, the report said.

Footage released by Iranian media showed the rocket being fired from a mobile launcher with a religious verse written on its side referring to the 12th hidden imam of Shiite Islam.

An Associated Press analysis of the footage showed the launch took place at the Guard's launch pad on the outskirts of the city of Shahroud, about 350 kilometers (215 miles) east of the capital Tehran. Iran's three most recent successful satellite launches all took place at this location.

There was no independent confirmation that Iran had successfully put the satellite into orbit. The U.S. military and State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

The United States has previously said Iran's satellite launches violate a U.N. Security Council resolution and called on Tehran not to engage in ballistic missile activities that could deliver nuclear weapons. UN sanctions related to Iran's ballistic missile program expired last October.

Under relatively moderate former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the Islamic Republic slowed its space program for fear of escalating tensions with the West. Hardliner President Ebrahim Raisi, a protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who came to power in 2021, has pushed the program.

The U.S. intelligence community's 2023 Global Threat Assessment said the development of satellite launch vehicles “shortens the timeline” for Iran to develop an ICBM because it uses similar technology.

ICBMs can be used to deliver nuclear weapons. After the collapse of its nuclear deal with world powers, Iran is now producing uranium that is close to weapons-grade levels. Tehran has enough enriched uranium for “multiple” nuclear weapons if it decides to produce them, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly warned.

Iran has always denied seeking nuclear weapons and said its space program, like its nuclear activities, are purely civilian. However, U.S. intelligence agencies and the IAEA say Iran had an organized military nuclear program until 2003.

The Guard's involvement in the launches, as well as the ability to launch the missile from a mobile launcher, are raising concerns in the West. The Guard, which reports only to Khamenei, unveiled its space program back in 2020.

Over the past decade, Iran has launched several short-lived satellites into orbit and sent a monkey into space in 2013. However, there have been problems with the program recently. The Simorgh program, another satellite-based rocket, has failed five launches in a row.

A fire at the Imam Khomeini Cosmodrome in February 2019 killed three researchers, authorities said at the time. A missile explosion on the launch pad later that year caught the attention of then-President Donald Trump, who mocked Iran with a tweet that appeared to show a U.S. surveillance photo of the facility.

In December, Iran sent a capsule capable of carrying animals into orbit in preparation for manned missions in the coming years.

Meanwhile, the US military's Central Command said on Saturday it had “conducted airstrikes against a Houthi anti-ship missile that was aimed at the Gulf of Aden and was ready to be launched.”

“U.S. forces determined that the missile posed a threat to merchant and U.S. Navy vessels in the region and subsequently struck and destroyed the missile in self-defense,” Central Command said in a statement. “This action will make international waters safer and more secure for the U.S. Navy and commercial vessels.”

The Iran-backed Houthis did not immediately acknowledge this seventh round of attacks. The rebels have been attacking shipping since November in what they call an end to what they call the war between Israel and Hamas. However, their targets increasingly have fewer or no ties to Israel or the conflict.

In Iraq, a coalition of militias calling themselves the Islamic Resistance in Iraq said it fired a volley of rockets on Saturday at the al-Asad air base in the west of the country, which is used by the U.S. military group. Armed forces in Iraq and Syria.

Central Command confirmed the attack and said “Iran-backed militants fired multiple grenades and ballistic missiles” at the base. It said the base's defense systems “intercepted most of the missiles, while others struck the base.”

The command's statement said an unspecified number of U.S. soldiers suffered head injuries and at least one Iraqi service member was also injured.

An Iraqi military official said 12 rockets were fired at the base, four of which were shot down and eight that struck inside the base. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the details to journalists.


Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Tara Copp in Washington contributed to this report.