iRANIAN saifr rocket 248.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran's launch of a satellite on Tuesday demonstrates a new and advanced capability that allows Teheran to fire ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads all the way to Western Europe, said Maj.-Gen. (res.) Isaac Ben-Israel, the former head of the Israel Space Agency.
"You need specific and added energy when firing a satellite that weighs between 30 and 50 kilograms into space," Ben-Israel, who is also a Kadima MK, told The Jerusalem Post. "If they succeeded, then the equivalent within the atmosphere is firing a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead that weighs one ton all the way to Western Europe."
The Iranian satellite was not alarming in itself, he said.
"It's just a box. What is [cause for concern] is the Iranians' increasing ability to fire long-range ballistic missiles," Ben-Israel said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced on Monday morning that Iran had successfully sent its first domestically made satellite into orbit.
Called Omid, or "hope" in Farsi, the satellite was launched after Ahmadinejad gave the order to proceed, according to a report on state radio. State television showed footage of what it said was the nighttime liftoff of the rocket carrying the satellite from an unidentified location in Iran.
A senior US defense official in Washington said the military had detected the launch of a missile into space, but it had not confirmed whether the missile was carrying a satellite.
In Jerusalem, Israel Space Agency head Zvi Kaplan said initial reports showed that a satellite had been launched.
"From what I have been investigating, it is true," he said. "We are not surprised, because in this day and age of information and technology, and with Iranian scientists studying abroad, they can obtain the knowledge."
Teheran has long been working to develop a space program, generating unease among world leaders already concerned about its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
"This test underlines and illustrates our serious concerns about Iran's intentions," Britain's Middle East minister, Bill Rammell, said in a statement.
The announcement of Omid's launch came amid festivities marking the anniversary of the Islamic revolution. State TV said the satellite had been launched "for the great celebration of the Iranian nation and the 30th anniversary of the victory of the revolution."
Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday that the satellite, which he described as having telecommunications capabilities, had reached its orbit and made contact with ground stations, though not all of its functions were active yet.
The launch was intended to be a message of peace and friendship to the world, Ahmadinejad told state television.
"We need science for friendship, brotherhood and justice," he said.
The White House said Iran was not acting responsibly with its satellite launch.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says: "This action does not convince us that Iran is acting responsibly to advance stability or security in the region."
He called any effort to develop missile delivery capability, continue an illicit nuclear program, or threaten Israel an "acute concern to this administration."
Gibbs also reiterated that the administration will use all elements of its national power to deal with Iran.
AP contributed to this report.