TEHRAN - Iran said yesterday it had successfully sent its first domestically made satellite into orbit, in a move that raised fresh concerns in an international community already at odds with Tehran over its nuclear drive.
Iran has long held the goal of developing a space program, generating unease among world leaders already concerned about its missile programs. One of the worries associated with Iran's fledgling space program is that the technology used to put satellites into space could also be used to deliver warheads.
"With this launch the Islamic Republic of Iran has officially achieved a presence in space," Ahmadinejad said. The satellite, called Omid, or hope in Farsi, was launched late Monday after the Iranian leader gave the order to proceed, reported the Associated Press.
In the first foreign reaction, France expressed concern because the technology used was "very similar" to that employed in ballistic missiles. A British Foreign Office spokeswoman said London was investigating the launch. "We are still carrying out a technical analysis of the Iranian launch," she told Agence France-Presse. In Washington, a senior U.S. defense official said the U.S. military also detected the launch of a missile into space. But it was not confirmed whether or not the missile was carrying a satellite, the official said.
Bahadır Dinçer, a Middle East expert from the International Strategic Research Organization, or USAK, told Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that he did not expect a severe response from Turkey to the launch as Ankara always took a positive approach to Iran’s nuclear program as long as the activities had peaceful purposes.
Israel, however, will consider Iran’s latest show of strength in space more serious and both the government and Israelis will interpret the lift-off as a direct threat to Israel’s security, according to experts in Turkey. "Parliamentary elections in Israel are very close and the launch will affect the internal politics of Israel. With the lift-off, Iran has shown it has boosted its military power and that it could also eliminate any threats," said Serhat Erkmen, an expert from the Middle East Strategic Research Organization, or ORSAM.
The launch comes at time when Iran is defiantly refusing Sec-Council demands to freeze sensitive nuclear work. The United States and some of its allies suspect Iran is pursuing a covert nuclear program. Iran denies the charge, saying its atomic work is only for peaceful purposes, such as power generation. The announcement also comes during festivities marking the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah and brought hard-line clerics to power.