February 3, 2009

Hat tip - Noah at Danger Room

When Iraq launched a three-stage rudimentary satellite booster into space in December 1989, probably based upon the Argentinian "Condor" ballistic missile, hawks in the West went crazy, declaiming that this proved Iraq was after an intercontinental WMD ability. We all know how that turned out.

Today it's "deja vu all over again" as Iran becomes the eleventh nation to prove it can launch a satellite into orbit - something it stated it would do as long ago as January 2004. It's stated aim is to grab a slice of the lucrative satellite launch industry - alongside major players like Russia, the US, China and Europe but also alongside nations like Brazil, Israel, Japan and India - as well as launch its own satellites for telecommunications, weather and earthquake monitoring and security (spy-sat) purposes. It already has one satellite in orbit, which it paid Russia hard currency to launch.

In the Guardian, Julian Borger looks at how the launch is seen differently in Iran and the West.

For the Iranian government it is an important milestone along the road to reclaiming Persia's ancient claim to major power status, which it feels the jealous west is trying to deny it.

It is also enormously significant in Iranian internal politics. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got elected promising economic benefits for the common man and modernisation. He has made a complete mess of the first part of that mission. Delivering the second is important for his prospects of re-election in June, in the eyes of both the average voter and – even more importantly, given the controlled nature of Iranian democracy – the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

From Washington, London and some other western capitals, the launch is seen primarily through the prism of Iran's nuclear project. The capacity to put an object into space, together with the feared capability to build a nuclear device, spells – for some at least – the eventual threat of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could reach the US.

"There are dual applications for satellite launching technology in Iran's ballistic missile programme. As a result we think this sends the wrong signal to the international community, which has already passed five successive UN security council resolutions on Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes," Bill Rammell, the minister of state at the [British] Foreign Office, said today.

Iranian assertions that their staging experiments were always aimed at getting into the lucrative satelite launching business, rather than at ICBMs, go forgotten...when Iran proves to prospective customers that it can launch a satellite. Amazing.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes a matter of national pride and foreign currency income doesn't have a more sinister agenda behind it. Mohammed El-Baradei reminded the WaPo on Monday that neither the IAEA nor the US intelligence community has any evidence of a current Iranian nuclear weapons program. It's become fashionable of late to just ignore that - President Obama being one keynote offender - but eventually the hawks will have to confront the lack of evidence, if they can.

Crossposted from Newshoggers

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