JEDDAH: Iran said on Wednesday it intended to conduct a test launch of its new solid-fueled rocket, despite a series of catastrophic failures and growing evidence that Israel may be sabotaging Tehran’s aerospace program.

Satellite images showed preparations at a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Semnan province. Defense Ministry spokesman Ahmad Hosseini said each of the Zuljanah rocket’s three stages would be tested in the launch. Iran insists the rocket is designed only for satellites, but critics say it can carry ballistic missiles.

The US has alleged that Iran’s satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution and has called on Tehran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

“Iran has consistently chosen to escalate tensions. It … has consistently chosen to take provocative actions,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday.
Pentagon spokesman Maj. Rob Lodewick said the US military would “continue to closely monitor Iran’s pursuit of viable space launch technology and how it may relate to advancements in its overall ballistic missile program.”
He said: “Iranian aggression, to include the demonstrated threat posed by its various missile programs, continues to be a top concern for our forces in the region.”

Iran’s aerospace development has been beset with difficulties, widely attributed to Israeli sabotage. There have been five failed launches in a row for the Simorgh program, a type of satellite-carrying rocket. A fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 killed three researchers, and the launch pad remains scarred from an explosion in August the same year.

The launch site is also where an Iranian military logistics specialist, Mohammed Abdous, died last week in mysterious circumstances. His death followed a spate of assassinations of officers in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps linked to Iran’s missile and nuclear programs.

Col. Sayad Khodai was shot dead in Tehran on May 22, and Col. Ali Esmailzadeh died on June 3 after he fell from the roof of his house just outside the Iranian capital. A week before Esmailzadeh’s death, Ehsan Ghadbeigi, an engineer, was killed in a drone attack at the Parchin military research site — a key location in Iran’s nuclear development program.

In the most recently reported incidents, two more missile scientists have died. Ayoub Entezari, 35, an engineer at a missile and drone center in Yazd, died of suspected poisoning after returning from a party on May 31. His dinner party host has since disappeared.

Kamran Aghamolaei, 31, a geologist who worked at the Natanz nuclear facility, died of multiple organ failure on June 2 after returning from a business trip in Tabriz.