Saturday, February 7, 2009

Iran’s Hope and Mideast Fears

Iran has launched its first home made communications satellite ‘Omid’ as a “data processing satellite project”; first in terms of being domestically produced and launched by a rocket Safir-2, it can carry a satellite — or a nuclear warhead or chemical weapon.
Though Iran had previously launched satellites in orbit, the first in 2005 (Sina-1, the Russian made missile and one that was launched by a Russian rocket) and a solid fuel rocket, Sajjil in November 2008, the launch of ‘Omid’ exhibits an advancement level in missile technology capability that Iran has achieved despite stringent international sanctions. This marks a new chapter in its missile technology capability. A missile essentially carries three components; the body, the engine and the warhead that can be used for either peaceful civilian purposes such as a satellite or for military purposes.
‘Omid’, that translates as hope, is being translated in more ominous terms worldwide. Iran’s so-called peaceful and friendly message to the world is, however, being interpreted differently by the West and Israel. Israel of course sees it as another step closer to a direct existential threat from Iran.
The neighbouring region, principally the Gulf states, is also right to be concerned about the implications arising from this development. This would directly bring to mind the correlation between Iran’s acquired missile capability and its covert attempts at acquiring nuclear capability.
Iran’s long standing disputes in the region and its interventionist policies are bound to acquire greater seriousness once it does acquire nuclear capability. A capability Iran has been defending as its due right and one solely for civilian purposes, despite its continued uranium enrichment in the face of international pressure.
The significance of this launch, albeit marking the 30th anniversary of Islamic Revolution, is more of an implicit message to the new administration in Washington that Iran has reached an advanced stage in missile capability and cannot be stopped. It is clearly understood that a certain level of advanced missile technology is of utmost importance to any nuclear programme, as it is the crucial delivery mechanism of nuclear warheads.
So this development could be used by the Iranian government for leverage in case negotiations are held with the Obama administration that has expressed desire for engaging Iran in talks.
On the other hand, it could encourage Israel to react strongly to the latest development. Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak’s recent statement that the US should first insist on a timeline from Iran for halting uranium enrichment before it enters negotiations is clearly going to set the stage for the kind of reaction we may expect in coming months. Iran must at this point show flexibility and maturity in its dealings with the Obama administration and act responsibly towards its Gulf neighbours that are justifiably concerned over its ambitions.
Khaleej Times