Tuesday, saw Iran launch its first satellite into orbit after several failed earlier attempts. The move is likely to increase tensions with the US and might interfere with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that intends to curtail Iran’s potential nuclear ambitions.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) announced the launch, calling it “a great success and a new development in the field of space for Islamic Iran.” Iranian authorities stressed that the satellite is not intended for any offensive military purposes.
The IRGC move undoubtedly intended to provide a display of Iranian military might in a time of internal chaos. The US, UK, and Israel have accused Iran of acts of aggression in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz while providing little verifiable evidence, but the April 22 launch is undeniably a display of power.
Iran is most likely responding to continued pressure by its geopolitical opponents. The country’s move aims to show both its own population and foreign powers that its military remains capable despite the chaos created by the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 within its borders.
Embattled, isolated regimes often lash out militarily when unabated economic sanctions leave little resolve outside of military posturing. North Korea similarly increased its missile testing and combative propaganda when renewed US pressure had backed the nation into a metaphorical corner.
Iran’s most important military advantage is not in its ballistic missiles, drones, or manpower, but its reliance on squadrons of small gunboats. These small ships with little more than a machine gun or rocket-launching installation could “close” the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the world’s oil is exported.
Iranian sources have reiterated that Tuesday’s satellite launch placed Iran among the world’s elite powers because of its technological sophistication, but the move may have far-ranging consequences.
A country in need
Iran is most in need of testing kits, protective medical equipment, and ventilators to deal with its spiraling COVID-19 outbreak. The impoverished nation has had little practical international support, with some countries actively blocking financial and medical aid from reaching Iran.
With sanctions continuing to wreak havoc on the Iranian population’s living conditions, the country is isolated in a time when global cooperation appears to be the greatest available remedy. Although many sanctions do not explicitly forbid medical imports, they do discourage companies from doing business with Iran which practically limits medical imports.
The country has already lived through one otherwise festive day in the midst of the crisis, with Nowruz celebrations limited for possibly the first time in thousands of years. Now that Ramadan is approaching, Iran’s population is facing another grim moment in what would otherwise be a serene and joyous occasion. The conditions in Iran are dire and the launch of the satellite will likely bring little joy to its people.
Iran currently is choosing to both appeal to our shared humanity in order to beg for a reprieve in sanctions, while also continuing its belligerent rhetoric. While Iran’s foes have certainly not granted the country any mercy during the crisis, it becomes harder to demand such mercy in the midst of conflicting military posturing.
The country’s leadership has spent nearly two months appealing to international bodies such as the WHO and IMF for support and have appealed to the UN for a temporary halt on sanctions. The country has garnered much support but with little effect. Perhaps after months of requests, Iran has simply realized that no foreign assistance will materialize in time, leaving it with few options.
The satellite launch will likely provide the United States with sufficient material to continue painting Iran as a threat. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the EU, and China have supported a temporary lifting of sanctions, but this goodwill might evaporate if Iran continues with a belligerent foreign policy.
A cornered cat makes strange jumps, or so the saying goes. Perhaps the Iranian move is logical given the lack of practical response the country has received for its efforts to realize a temporary detente. With the health of Iranians and peace in the region at stake, it appears little progress has been made toward a bettering of relations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unable to rely on our shared humanity in the international community, Iran has instead seemingly retreated to rely on its population’s shared opposition to its besieging foes.