Israeli security officials alarmed by Iranian satellite launch

Israel Materials 18 August 2008 15:27 (UTC +04:00)

Israeli experts and officials voiced mixed reactions Monday to the launch of Iran's first domestically produced carrier rocket, dpa reported.

Tehran successfully test-fired the new rocket Safir Omid (Hope Envoy) before dawn Sunday, according to an Iranian Army statement carried on the official news agency IRNA.

The statement said that it was the second test-launch and successfully prepared the ground for the launch of the main satellite in the future.

Israel Radio quoted a senior Israeli security official as saying that if Iran was capable of launching a satellite into space, this proved it was also able to launch other payloads over distances of thousands of kilometres.

A security official also told Israel Army Radio that the test "underscores Iran's military ambitions."

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa the Israeli government had no official reaction.

One Israeli expert, Tal Inbar, a senior researcher at the Israeli Fischer Space and Aviation Research Institute, said the test was a "turning point," which had "far-reaching consequences for Israel's security."

Inbar told the Yediot Ahronot daily that the test was a "most impressive technological achievement," and said that the development of civilian satellite launchers was a "cover" for purchasing parts and know-how on the international market for Iran's military programmes.

But Israeli lawmaker Yitzhak Ben-Israel, the former head of Israel's Space Agency, downplayed the achievement as Iranian "propaganda."

He said the concern expressed by some Israelis was "exaggerated" and "plays into the hands" of Tehran, which was trying to deter Israel and the US from attacking its nuclear facilities.

The satellite launched by Iran was an unsophisticated box of 20 kilogrammes, similar to one built by students at Israel's Technion Institute of Technology already 10 years ago, he said.

"It's just an attempt to scare the Israeli public, which is apparently working pretty well, with all the superfluous media coverage," he told Israel Army Radio.