Iran launches three satellites part of program criticized by West

Iran launches three satellites, part of program criticized by West as tensions rise – Yahoo News

JERUSALEM (AP) — Iran said Sunday that it had successfully launched three satellites into space on a rocket that has suffered multiple failures in the past, most recently in a program that the West says is improving Tehran's ballistic missiles should.

The launch comes as tensions rise across the Middle East over Israel's ongoing war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, raising fears of a regional conflict.

Although Iran has not intervened militarily in the conflict, it is facing increased pressure to act within its theocracy following a deadly suicide attack by the Islamic State earlier this month and the carrying out of war-related attacks by proxy groups such as Yemen's Houthi rebels. Meanwhile, Western nations remain concerned about Iran's rapidly expanding nuclear program.

Footage released by Iranian state television showed the Simorgh rocket launching at night. An Associated Press analysis of the footage showed it took place at the Imam Khomeini Cosmodrome in Iran's rural Semnan province.

“The roar of the Simorgh (rocket) echoed in the sky of our country and in infinite space,” Abbas Rasooli, a state television reporter, said in the footage.

State television named the launched satellites Mahda, Kayhan-2 and Hatef-1. It described the Mahda as a research satellite, while the Kayhan and Hatef were nanosatellites focused on global positioning and communications, respectively. Iran's Information and Communications Technology Minister Isa Zarepour said the Mahda had already sent signals back to Earth.

The Simorgh program, a satellite rocket, has failed five launches in a row. The failure of the Simorgh, or “Phoenix,” rocket was part of a series of setbacks for Iran's civilian space program in recent years, including deadly fires and a rocket explosion on the launch pad that caught the attention of former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled.

Footage showed the missile fired on Sunday bore the slogan “We Can” in Farsi, likely referring to the previous failures.

The Simorgh is a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket that the Iranians say is designed to launch satellites into low-Earth orbit.

However, 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. This report specifically mentions the Simorgh as a possible dual-use missile.

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. Since then, however, the 2015 nuclear deal Rouhani signed with world powers has failed and tensions with the US have been simmering for years

Hardliner President Ebrahim Raisi, a protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who came to power in 2021, has pushed the program. Meanwhile, Iran is enriching uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels and enough material for multiple nuclear bombs, even though U.S. intelligence agencies and others believe Tehran is not yet actively seeking a nuclear weapon.

On Friday, France, Germany and the United Kingdom condemned Iran's Jan. 20 satellite launch, also calling it likely to help Iran develop long-range ballistic missiles.

“We have long-standing concerns about Iran’s activities related to ballistic missile technologies capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” the countries said. “These concerns are heightened by Iran’s ongoing nuclear escalation beyond any credible civilian justification.”

Tehran has the largest arsenal of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, thanks in part to decades of sanctions after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis, which deprives it of modern fighter jets and other weapons systems.

The U.S. military and State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday. However, the US military has tacitly admitted that the January 20 launch carried out by the country's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard was successful.


Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.