Rocket launches reveal Iran-Israel arms race

Iran’s successful launch of its first space rocket Feb. 25 made global headlines. Iran’s Space Research Center said the rocket returned to earth by parachute, and did from where in Iran it had been launched or where it landed. The space agency’s chief, Mohsen Bahrami, said the rocket was carrying “material intended for research created by the ministries of science and defense.” The state news agency IRNA today quoted Science and Technology Minister Mohammad Soleimani saying, “investment in space is very serious and requires time, but we are trying to speed this up.”

Iran first sent an Iranian Russian-made satellite into space aboard a Russian-made rocket in October 2005. The Sina-1 satellite was Iran’s first, and so far only, satellite put into orbit.

Despite protestations of peaceful purposes, the new launch comes as Iran’s nuclear ambitions dominates world news. On the day of the launch, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told IRNA his country “has obtained the technology to produce nuclear fuel and Iran’s move is like a train…which has no brakes and no reverse gear.” Deputy Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mohammadi was quoted as saying, “We have prepared ourselves for any situation, even for war.” (RFE/RL, Feb. 25)

With virtually no notice in the world press, on Feb. 11, Israel launched an Arrow anti-ballistic missile which successfully intercepted a target simulating an Iranian Shahab 3 medium-range rocket. It was the first such test conducted at night, and the first time that Israeli Air Force (IAF) personnel managed and conducted the whole interception process, which was developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

But IAF personnel expressed concerns that Iran is developing manoeuvring capabilities for its Shahab missiles, which would make interception more difficult. According to Israeli intelligence sources, Syria, which recently tested its “Scud D” short-range ballistic missile, is developing manoeuvring capabilities for its “Scuds,” as well as seeking to acquire the Russian Iskander-E (SS-X-26). IAI said a newer interceptor version, M5, capable of better manoeuvring, will be tested in the coming months. (Jane’s Defense Weekly, Feb. 16)

See our last posts on Iran, nuclear fear, Iran’s nuclear program, Israel and mounting signs of a nuclear conflagration.

  1. Israel launches spy satellite
    From Reuters, June 11:

    Israel launched a new spy satellite on Monday and said it would provide high-quality surveillance over enemies such as Syria and Iran, rivalling the capabilities of the United States.

    Rocketed into orbit from a coastal Israeli air base, the Ofek 7 was expected to begin relaying high-resolution ground photographs from an altitude of 200-500 km (125-315 miles) by the end of the week. “The successful launch adds an important layer to Israel’s defence capabilities and it is a testament to Israel’s technological strength,” Defence Minister Amir Peretz said in a statement.

    Haim Eshed, head of the Defence Ministry’s space directorate, told Army Radio that Ofek 7 would help Israel “deal with the Iranian issue”. Iran’s nuclear programme has raised fears in the West, though Tehran denies it wants nuclear bombs.

    Israel is also monitoring neighbouring Syria for signs of a military build-up following last year’s war against the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla group, an ally of Damascus.

    The Ofek 7 was produced by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) under pressure to replace the Ofek 6, which was lost in a 2004 launch malfunction. The previous satellite in the series, Ofek 5, has been in orbit since 2002 and will soon be out of commission.

    Aviation Week noted on March 5:

    On Feb. 25, Iran used a large ballistic missile to fire a research payload into space in a sounding rocket test that intelligence analysts expect will be followed by more ambitious Iranian satellite launch attempts.