Israeli intel firm: Iran in final stages before launch of satellites into orbit
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Israeli intel firm: Iran in final stages before launch of satellites into orbit

Satellite images show additional personnel, trucks around Islamic Republic’s spaceport; Israel, US fear Tehran using space program to improve its ballistic missiles

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Satellite photos, released by Israeli firm ImageSat International on January 14, 2019, show apparent preparations by Iran to launch a satellite into space from its Imam Khomenei Spaceport in northern Iran. (ImageSat International)
Satellite photos, released by Israeli firm ImageSat International on January 14, 2019, show apparent preparations by Iran to launch a satellite into space from its Imam Khomenei Spaceport in northern Iran. (ImageSat International)

Tehran is conducting its final preparations before launching a satellite into orbit from its Imam Khomenei Spaceport in northern Iran, an Israeli satellite imagery firm said Monday, citing new photographic evidence of the area.

Earlier this month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran would be launching two satellites into space “using our domestically-made rockets” within the coming weeks.

Israel and the United States, among others, are concerned that Iran is using its space program to further develop its ballistic missile program.

According to the Israeli satellite imagery analysis firm, ImageSat International, this appears to be imminent, as large numbers of personnel have arrived at the Khomenei Spaceport in recent days, and the launch site has been prepared for use.

“ISI satellite imagery reveals that the launch preparation process is in its final stages,” the firm said.

Satellite photos released by Israeli firm ImageSat International on January 14, 2019, show apparent preparations by Iran to launch a satellite into space from its Imam Khomenei Spaceport in northern Iran. (ImageSat International)

Images provided by the company show trucks and private vehicles around the spaceport.

“It is our assessment that the missile that will carry the satellite is already in a construction site, and that checks are being preformed on it and on the launcher,” ImageSat said.

ImageSat offered no information about the second satellite that Iran says it plans to launch in the near future.

Satellite photos released by Israeli firm ImageSat International on January 14, 2019, show apparent preparations by Iran to launch a satellite into space from its Imam Khomenei Spaceport in northern Iran. (ImageSat International)

Iran typically displays achievements in its space program in February, during the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. This year will mark the 40th anniversary of the revolution, which saw the Persian monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi replaced by the Islamic Republic overseen by a Shiite cleric.

Previously, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit over the past decade, and, in 2013, launched a monkey into space. The US and its allies worry the same satellite-launching technology could be used to develop long-range missiles.

Last week, Iran said that the country’s three new satellites have successfully passed pre-launch tests.

Earlier in January, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran’s plans for sending satellites into orbit demonstrate the country’s defiance of a UN Security Council resolution that calls on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Iran insists the launches do not violate the resolution.

An image that is claimed to show the launch of a satellite-carrying rocket on July 27, 2017. (Official website of the Iranian Defense Ministry)

Pompeo is currently touring the Mideast to promote the White House’s tough stance on Iran, and to assure America’s Arab allies that the Trump administration is not walking away from the region.

On Wednesday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called Washington officials “first-class idiots,” in unusually harsh remarks that reflect the broader tension between Iran and the US after President Donald Trump withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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