Iran tests new ‘most powerful’ rocket capable of carrying nuclear warhead

The launch may be a hint to Washington including restrictions on missile development in any revised deal is off the table.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Iran announced Monday that it had conducted a successful test-launch of its newest and biggest rocket, one capable of carrying a satellite into space, or a nuclear warhead.

Iran’s Defense Ministry’s aerospace department spokesman Ahmad Hosseini told the country’s state TV that “the test helped Iran to achieve its most powerful rocket engine,” which was officially designated a Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV). He aspecified that the rocket, which can reach a height of 500 kilometers (310 miles) and carry a 220-kg satellite, “can be launched using a mobile launching pad.”

The latter detail could also be an advantage if Iran wanted to use the SLV, called the Zuljanah, as an intercontinental ballistic missile, instead of a means of carrying a spy satellite into low-earth orbit.

The network also said that the Zuljanah’s propulsion system “uses solid fuel in the first and second stages, and fluid fuel in the third stage.”

Missile expert Tal Inbar told The Jerusalem Post that the rocket was “an important development” and that the difference between the fuels is significant.

Rockets meant for space use liquid fuel, he explained. Meanwhile, there are “operational advantages” to using solid fuel in warhead-carrying missiles. “You can launch them with no preparation and do salvos,” he said.

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Iran has denied that its satellite program is linked to nuclear weapons development. It has attempted several times in recent years to put a satellite into space, finally succeeding last April in launching a military one into orbit.

When then-President Donald Trump walked away from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018, he said that one of the reasons it was so “deeply flawed” was that it did not include restrictions on the development of long-range ballistic technology that enables a country to actually deliver the weapons it produces.

The unveiling of the Zuljanah, as well as other, medium-range launch vehicles Iran has developed over recent years, can be seen as a move that both threatens Israel and again signals to the new U.S. administration that its missile program is off the negotiating table in any new or revised nuclear deal.

Just two days before the announcement of the SLV launch, the Iranian Foreign Ministry had put out a statement rejecting any changes to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name for the nuclear agreement.

President Joe Biden made it a cornerstone of his campaign that the U.S. would rejoin the JCPOA and has appointed several of those who negotiated it under President Barack Obama to top positions in his administration.

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Prior to his Senate confirmation last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained that his approach would be to use such a return to the deal as a “platform” for a broader agreement, one that included Tehran’s missile program.