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Implications of the Timing

Why did Iran launch thе nеw satеllitе Soraya?

13 February 2024

On January 20, 2024, the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of Iran announced the successful launch of its new satellite, Soraya. The satellite was placed into orbit approximately 750 kilometers above the Earth's surface using the three-stage solid-fuel launch vehicle, Qaem-100. The launch event was attended by several high-ranking officials, including the Revolutionary Guard Commander, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the head of the Iranian Space Agency, Hassan Salariya, and the commander of the Revolutionary Guard's Aerospace Force, Brigadier General Ali Hajizadeh. According to Eisa Zarepout, the Iranian Minister of Information and Communications Technology, Iranian satellite monitoring stations received signals from the Soraya satellite. They also received remote sensing data related to power supply status, automatic location determination, communication and control, and processing systems, which indicated that the satellite is functioning well.

Multiplе Implications

The implications associatеd with Iran's launch of thе Soraya satеllitе, can be outlined as follows:

1- Continuation of the space program dеvеlopmеnt:

Thе successful launch of thе Soraya satеllitе rеflеcts advancеmеnts in Iran's spacе program. Compared to prеvious satеllitеs Nour-1, Nour-2, and Nour-3, which wеrе placеd in orbit at an attitude of around 450 kilomеtеrs, Soraya was succеssfully placеd in a 750-kilomеtеr orbit, an incrеasе of 300 kilomеtеrs abovе thе Earth. Additionally, it was launched using thе Qam-100 thrее-stagе rockеt, which opеratеs on solid fuеl, which represents an advancеmеnt ovеr prеvious ballistic missiles launchеd using a mix of solid and liquid fuеls, thus enhancing precision and dеvеlopmеnt. Morеovеr, Iranian Spacе Agеncy's announcеmеnt on January 6, 2024, stating Iran's intеntion to launch sеvеral nеw satеllitеs into spacе by thе еnd of thе current Iranian yеar (еnding on March 19, 2024), within lеss than 3 months, underscores the significance of thе Soraya satellite launch as a joint production bеtwееn the Rеvolutionary Guard Corps and thе Ministry of Communications.

2- An attеmpt to lift the UN embargo on the missilе program:

 Iran is seeking to reaffirm the expiration of the 13-year arms embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on its missile program, which officially ended on October 18, 2023, under the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the 2015 nuclear agreement. Despite Iran's violation of this embargo by continuing to develop its ballistic missiles—arguing they are not designed to carry nuclear warheads—the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal in May 2018, and the European troika's (Britain, Germany, and France) announcement in October 2023 to continue sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile and drone programs, have obstructed the full lifting of the embargo. In response, Washington imposed new sanctions on October 19, 2023, targeting Iran’s ballistic missile and drone programs, including 11 individuals, 8 entities, and one ship.

3- Exploiting distraction causеd by Gaza and Ukrainе wars:

Through the recent space experiment, Tehran aims to capitalize on the international and regional focus on the ongoing wars in Gaza and Ukraine to advance its space program. This raises concerns, particularly in the West, about the possibility of Iran covertly developing ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads using the same technologies. The West views Iran's development of such missiles as a breach of UN Resolution 2231 related to the nuclear agreement, which prohibits Iran from developing ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Dеtеrrеncе Mеssagеs

Iran's announcеmеnt of thе succеssful launch of thе nеw sаtеllitе Soraya carries thе following messages:

1- Response to Israеli and Amеrican thrеats:

 Tehran's move comes in response to escalating threats from Israel and America against Iran and its proxies. This announcement from Iran coincided with Israel's assassination of five IRGC advisers in an airstrike on the Mezzeh neighborhood in the Syrian capital, Damascus. It follows the assassination of prominent military commander Qassem Soleimani in an Israeli strike on the Zainabiyah area in Damascus on December 25 of the previous year. Furthermore, the United States has recently intensified airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias in Syria and Iraq, causing casualties and infrastructure damage. Therefore, Tehran's goal is to communicate that its lack of direct response to threats against it and its proxies does not signify an inability to react. It aims to show that it can deter any attempts to compromise its security and sovereignty, particularly in light of increasing Israeli threats of direct strikes against Iran.

2- Acknowlеdgmеnt of domеstic sеtbacks:

The announcement of the successful deployment of the Soraya satellite into a 750-kilometer orbit is a strategic move by the Iranian regime to mitigate the fallout from the Kerman bombings on January 3, 2024, which resulted in approximately 100 fatalities and numerous injuries. The attack had targeted a procession marking the anniversary of the death of Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani. Tehran is attempting to quell public outrage stemming from its failure to protect the processions from the blasts, which occurred near Soleimani’s tomb and resulted in a high casualty count. Therefore, the launch of the Soraya satellite serves a dual purpose: it diverts attention from the Kerman incident, and demonstrates the regime's ability to maintain internal control.

3- Doubts cast on the true mission of Soraya satеllitе:

Questions arose about the true purpose of the Soraya satellite due to its relatively large mass of approximately 50 kilograms, as stated by the Iranian Minister of Communications and Information Technology. The speculation was fueled by the fact that the satellite was launched from the Shahroud station, approximately 350 kilometers east of Tehran. This station is typically used for military satellite launches, unlike the Imam Khomeini station, which was the launch site for the Nour satellites. The involvement of the IRGC in the launch, including the presence of its commanders, suggests that the new satellite might have been designed for surveillance and reconnaissance of hostile locations, further supporting the theory that it was intended for military use.

4- An attеmpt to rеvivе nuclеar nеgotiations:

Iran's announcement arrives as Washington hints at the potential to restart halted nuclear discussions with Iran, recognizing that pulling out of the nuclear deal was a significant error. Iran has also conveyed optimistic signals, expressing its willingness to re-enter negotiations while maintaining its self-declared "red lines." Some observers interpret Iran's lack of direct involvement in ongoing conflicts, whether in Gaza or Yemen, as an attempt by Iran to placate the United States to facilitate the resumption of nuclear talks. Therefore, Iran's escalatory measures aim to prompt a revival of the talks, which have been stalled since September 2022. This presents the West with two choices: either return to negotiations with Iran or continue escalating tensions on all fronts. However, there are risks involved if the West does not respond to these messages and resumes pressure on the Iranian side.

In conclusion, Iran's recent announcement of successfully launching the Soraya satellite into orbits beyond 500 kilometers for the first time signifies its ongoing efforts to showcase its power. This is evident in the testing of the Qaem-100 rocket amidst escalating tensions with the United States and Israel, particularly in the aftermath of the Gaza war. The move serves to underline that Iran's missile program is a "red line" for the regime, and that its ongoing development is a strategic safeguard against external threats. It also aims to bolster the Iranian people's faith in the regime. This is crucial considering the recent security failures Iran has experienced both domestically and internationally. It also serves to galvanize Iranians for the upcoming elections for the Consultative Assembly and the Assembly of Experts on March 1, 2024. The regime aims to increase popular engagement, which it relies on to convey to the West that it still commands a robust domestic support base.