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Iran's successful test of a space-bound rocket on Sunday should serve as a "wake-up call" for the defense establishment concerning Teheran's potential to use ballistic missiles to destroy satellites, according to Tal Inbar, a senior research fellow at Israel's Fisher Institute for Air & Space Strategic Studies.
"If they can reach space, then they can launch missiles to a high enough altitude and detonate them primitively with bolts and metal pieces that will definitely cause damage to satellites," he said Sunday.
Iran joined an exclusive list of countries with independent capabilities to reach space with the successful testing of a rocket the country said had reached space. The announcement, made on state-run television, was unclear, but appeared to refer to Iran's efforts to launch commercial satellites into orbit.
Iran's Science and Technology and Defense ministries built the craft, state-run television quoted Mohsen Bahrami, the head of Iran's Space Research Center, as saying. Bahrami provided no other details beyond saying that Iran had successfully launched what he called a space rocket or space missile.
Inbar said a space race was taking place in the Middle East, and Iran's successful rocket launch was a demonstration of the technological superiority it maintained in the region.
"We are looking at a race to space," he said. "While Israel is technologically more advanced than Iran, we need to be concerned with the testing, which proves that they have independent space capabilities."
Egypt is planning to launch a spy satellite in March, although from Kazakhstan and not independently. Other countries that have the ability to launch rockets into space are the US, Japan, China, Russia, France, Britain and Israel.
The rocket that was launched, Inbar said, was most probably based on Iran's Shihab-3 ballistic missile with slight modifications. While the successful launch was impressive, he said, the Shihab-3 was only capable of carrying a 30-kilogram payload and was not big enough to carry an average-size satellite into space.
Iran launched a communications satellite into space in 1998 and plans to launch the Mesbah spy satellite by the end of the year from a different country.
Inbar said Israel had invested $60 million annually in its space program.
"To keep this edge," he said, "we need to invest more in space and raise the annual investment to at least $200 m."