Iran says it launched military satellite as Trump threatens ships

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran said it put its first military satellite into orbit on Wednesday, making it an emerging “world power”, as the United States (US) issued new threats amid rising naval tensions in the Middle East.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps hailed the launch as a milestone, in the face of intense US pressure and Washington’s allegations that the space programme is a cover to develop ballistic missiles.

“Today, we are looking at the Earth from the sky, and it is the beginning of the formation of a world power,” the elite unit’s commander Hossein Salami said, quoted by Fars news agency.

Tensions between the US and Iran escalated again last week with Washington accusing its arch-foe of harassing its ships.

US President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to say he had “instructed the US Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea”.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the satellite launch proved US charges that Iran’s space programme was for military rather than commercial purposes. “I think Iran needs to be held accountable for what they’ve done,” Pompeo told reporters in Washington. Iran maintains it has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, and says its aerospace activities are peaceful and comply with a United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution.

Sepahnews, the Revolutionary Guards’ website, said the satellite dubbed the Nour – meaning “light” in Persian – had been launched from the Markazi desert, a vast expanse in Iran’s central plateau. The satellite “orbited the Earth at 425 kilometres ” above sea level, said Sepahnews.

US Deputy Defence Secretary David Norquist said the Iranian launch “went a very long way”. The range “means it has the ability once again to threaten their neighbours, our allies. And we want to make sure they can never threaten the US,” he told reporters.

An Iranian rocket carrying a satellite is launched from an undisclosed site believed to be in Iran’s Semnan province. PHOTO: AP