In a bizarre statement that will likely be studied for some time by strategic analysts seeking to understand how deterrence works, a senior officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) publicly announced that threats from the United States forced Iranian leadership to shelve plans to launch a space launch vehicle (SLV) in the past several weeks.
Brigadier-General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, Commander of the IRGC Air Force, is quoted by the Iranian Tasnim News Agency as saying, “We prepared to launch a satellite-carrying rocket for civilian purposes. But some gentlemen sent the rocket back to the storehouse after an American threat…It is suspicious to us that a satellite-carrying rocket that has civilian purposes goes back to the warehouse after an American threat. Until what time shall we pay ransom and demonstrate weakness?”
Brigadier-General Hajizadeh then urged the Iranian government under President Hassan Rouhani to change its strategic calculations, adopt a tougher approach to the new U.S. administration, and demonstrate that Iranians are “not the people of retreat.”
Since there have been no statements from President Rouhani’s government about what caused the decsion to shelve the launch of the SLV, it is difficult to ascertain whether Brigadier-General Hajizadeh’s accusation has any merit. Since no alternative explanation has not been offered so far, however, it is possible that Tehran decided to err on the side of caution when it came to the launch.
Brigadier-General Hajizadeh’s statement is also a strong indication of the stark difference of opinion on how to deal with the administration of President Donald J. Trump emerging in Iran between hardline elements such as the IRGC and those who take a less provocative view, such as President Rouhani’s government.
The statement by Brigadier-General Hajizadeh also comes in the run-up to Iran’s presidential election to be held in May 2017. To date, the political campaign of Iranian hardliner and conservative elements has been harsh on President Rouhani and his fellow pragmatists and reformers, and it is thought that the incumbent may lose the presidency to a more conservative candidate.
In such an event it could be expected that Iran will adopt a much more tougher stance against the United States and its regional allies, and will likely increase the number and scope of missile tests, to include a more aggressive launch schedule for its space programme.