Launch of the Simorgh rocket in an unknown location in Iran (photo from the Iranian Defense Ministry). (WANA NEWS AGENCY / via REUTERS)

The white rocket rose into the clear sky from an unidentified site in the desert. On Thursday morning, Iran announced on television that it had successfully lifted off Simorgh, a satellite launcher that was supposed to send three “search devices” into the air. space. “The research objectives planned for this launch have been met,” said Ahmad Hossein, spokesperson for the ministry’s space unit. Iranian Defense Force, which is piloting this program. “This was a preliminary launch and we will have operational launches in the near future,” he added, without giving further details.

A certain vagueness also surrounded the placing of research devices into orbit. She would have failed, according to several Iranian journalists (here or there), But what is closely scrutinized and risks provoking reactions from Europeans and the United States, ca ???? is the use of Simorgh, this rocket named after a mythical bird from the Book of Kings by Ferdowsi. Developed from 2010, it is suspected of serving as a screen for the ballistic, and therefore military, ambitions of Teheran. In 2017, a US intelligence report noted that “advances in Iran’s space program could shorten the path to [intercontinental ballistic missiles] [or ICBM, note] because space launchers use intrinsically similar technologies” “:” [Simorgh] could serve as a test bed for the development of ICBM technologies. “

Iran’s progress in this area is therefore of particular concern to Westerners. Resolution 2231 of the UN Security Council, which endorsed the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement, attempted to frame them by directing Iran to “Not to carry out any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be able to carry nuclear charges”. The Iranian authorities are playing on this ambiguity between space and ballistics to defend the legitimacy of its tests, which have multiplied for a decade.

“[Iranian missiles] can strike across the Middle East. They can strike with precision and volume, warns General McKenzie, head of the United States Middle East Command, in a recent New Yorker article. . The Iranians have the upper hand in this theater, they have the ability to overwhelm. ”According to the United States Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Islamic Republic has the most extensive and diversified arsenal in the region.

Concerned therefore, the West hope one day to limit Iranian ballistic ambitions, but another more urgent issue is already occupying them: the nuclear issue. Thursday’s launch indeed came as, for the first time since negotiations resumed at the end of November, discussions appear to be moving in the right direction to save the torn 2015 agreement. by Trump and then raped by Iran. The few confidences and indiscretions suggest that they have at least come out of the dead end that was almost promised to them. The US State Department on Tuesday spoke of “modest” progress and the head of the Iranian delegation, Ali Bagheri Kani, spoke two days later “relatively satisfactory” progress. Mikhail Ulyanov, the long-winded ambassador at the head of the Russian negotiating team, also noted a “positive trend”.

While the Europeans and Americans have a time imagined negotiating nuclear, ballistics, and Iran’s regional policy at the same time, they have signed up. to restore first what can be restored, therefore the Vienna Accord. The missile program is an even more sensitive subject for the Iranian regime which has placed it at the heart of its defense strategy. Unlike the nuclear program, officially for civilian use, therefore in the hands of a civilian institution (the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran), the Ballistic developments are split between the Regular Army, which notably designed Simorgh, and the Revolutionary Guardians, who developed it. other models, some more advanced. They had managed to put a satellite into orbit in April 2020 using a launcher of unprecedented sophistication.