By Javad Heirannia

Zafar Satellite or producing nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles?

February 14, 2020 - 12:18

TEHRAN_ Satellite launch vehicles (SLV) are being politically interpreted by Western countries because of their technical similarities to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).

That is to say, despite the absence of any legal restrictions on testing and launching satellites, there has always been a political interpretation by Western states about Iran’s satellite launches. 

A recent example of this issue was the stance of the U.S. and Western countries, especially France. In an interventionist move, France even called on Iran not to launch Zafar satellite. 

For the West and Israel, testing satellite launch vehicles means-testing long-range missiles, which they consider as a security threat.

It should be noted that carrier rockets (three-stage rocket) are similar to intercontinental ballistic missiles. In the first stage, a rocket separates from the main rocket, in the second stage the other rocket separates and in the third stage it places the satellite into orbit, just like a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. The only difference is that a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead then enters the Earth's atmosphere and launches a nuclear bomb. That is, a nuclear warhead must go out of the Earth's atmosphere and return to it safely. 

Technically, producing intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads is more difficult than producing rocket launchers.

Although Iran has announced that its space program is for scientific and research purposes, the Western countries interpret the Iranian satellite program politically. They claim that Iran is trying to simulate intercontinental ballistic missiles by satellite launches and learn about the technology related to satellite launch vehicles.

For example, the French Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Monday in response to the launch of Zafar atop Simorgh rocket, saying, “France condemns this launch, which employs ballistic missile technologies, in particular, those used for intercontinental missiles”.

U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the launch of satellite by Iran. He tweeted on Tuesday: “The Iranian regime uses satellite launches to further advance the ballistic missile capabilities that allow it to threaten its adversaries and threaten regional stability.”

In fact, the West's goal is to portray Iran’s satellite launch as an attempt for launching intercontinental ballistic missile and claim that this is contrary to international agreements, including the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, so that they can take the issue of the Iranian missile program to the Security Council or consider it as one of the JCPOA commitments. The issue was first stated by U.S. President Donald Trump following his withdrawal from the JCPOA. 

But the question is: Can one really benefit from the technical experience of launching satellites for military purposes (an intercontinental missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead)?

Missile experts reject this assumption. Michael Elleman, a prominent expert in the field of missile defense described the similarities and differences of the Simorgh SLV and intercontinental ballistic missiles in an analysis carried out in The Center for Strategic and International Studies, stating, “The technologies and components employed by satellite launchers, including the Simorgh, and long-range ballistic missiles are similar. Both use powerful rocket engines, high-strength, and lightweight airframes, inertial navigation and guidance units, stage- and payload-separation mechanisms, as well as tracking and telemetry systems to support development and operations. Despite these similarities, accusations that Iran’s use of Simorgh to launch satellites is a cover for ICBM development are misguided”.

Is Iran's missile program inconsistent with Resolution 2231?

Two points need to be clarified to determine whether Iran's missile program and satellite launch are inconsistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2231. The first point is the text of the resolution and what kind of missile has Iran been called upon not to design and undertake?

The second point is which organization verifies the missile activity in a country?

Adopted in July 2015, UNCSCR 2231 endorses the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly called the Iran nuclear deal. Unlike the JCPOA, Resolution 2231 addresses Iran’s missiles and their potential role in delivering nuclear weapons to distant targets.

The resolution states: ‘Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.’

The resolution proscribes Iranian missiles based on their intended purpose – those designed to carry nuclear weapons – rather than their inherent capability.

UNCSCR 2231 "calls upon” Iran to refrain from developing a specific type of missile. “Call upon” does not represent a legally binding rule.

The term “call upon” is used in UNCSCR 2231, while the previous resolution that was repealed, Resolution 1929, stated about Iran’s missile program that the UN Security Council prohibits Iran from any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. 

The important question now is, what organization has been authorized to verify the missile program of countries? That is, based on which principle European countries consider the Iranian missile program inconsistent with Resolution 2231 and believe that Iran’s missiles are capable of delivering nuclear warheads?

Peter Jenkins, an associate fellow of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and former British ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, in a report released by the U.S. LobeLog website about a year ago, blamed Western governments, especially London, for adopting dichotomous policies toward Iran’s missiles program.

The former diplomat goes on to blame London for its hypocrisy because the Zionist regime has missiles that have far more ranges than Iranian missiles. Therefore, by what reason does Iran have no right to create a balance of power? In addition, what is the role of Saudi Arabia, which has all kinds of advanced weapons thanks to the West, in destabilizing the Middle East?  Interestingly, Saudi medium-range missiles and Israeli possession of nuclear and chemical weapons do not make Britain concerned.

Criticism of Iran's missile program comes as Israel has developed its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles with significant European backing, and Saudi Arabia has purchased advanced 2500-km range missiles from China. Saudi Arabia has also purchased advanced nuclear technology from the United States and recently unveiled its ballistic missile factory.

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