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Iran's Missile Launch Failures Likely Linked To U.S. Sabotage, Report Says

ranians take pictures of the Simorgh (Phoenix) satellite rocket during celebrations to mark the 37th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, in Tehran, February 11, 2016

A February 13 New York Times article suggests the reason for the failure of recent Iranian space missile launches may be " part of an expanding campaign by the United States to undercut Tehran’s military and isolate its economy."

Current and former U.S. administration officials have told the New York Times that it is hard to measure the success of the "classified program" which has never been acknowledged publicly.

The Iranian missile program, the pride of Iran's Islamic Revolution's Guards Corps (IRGC), which is frowned at by Europe and strongly opposed by the United States, has experienced two major failures recently.

In a statement issued late on February 7, the State Department asserted that space launch vehicles “use technologies that are virtually identical and interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles, including in Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).” The statement was issued because of an Iranian attempt to put a satellite into orbit on February 5, which the state department said could eventually enable Iran to threated U.S. allies.

Satellite imagery suggested that the launch had failed. Another attempt to launch an Iranian satellite had failed on January 15.

The February 7 images released by Colorado-based DigitalGlobe and San Francisco-based Planet showed words written in Farsi in large characters including the phrase "40 years" and "Iranian made." Iran celebrating the 40th anniversary of its Islamic Revolution in February.

It was not immediately known if the launch was successful. David Schmerler, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said that since Iran has made no immediate announcement surrounding the launch, it was possible it was unsuccessful.

Now, the New York Times article by David E. Sanger and William J. Broad suggests that the two failed launches "were part of a pattern over the past 11 years," adding that former and current administration officials speaking on the condition of anonymity "described a far-reaching effort, created under President George W. Bush, to slip faulty parts and materials into Iran’s aerospace supply chains. The program was active early in the Obama administration, but had eased by 2017, when Mr. Pompeo took over as the director of the C.I.A. and injected it with new resources."

The effort known as “Left of Launch” tries to make sure that minute alterations in parts Iran buys from foreign suppliers cause eventual failure especially in balistic missiles used for placing objects in orbit. These are the kind of experiments that can eventually enable Iran to produce ICBMs.

Last week, while introducing a new financial measure to help Iran's international trade, the European Union expressed concern over Iran's ballistic missile program. U.S. officials had earlier warned Iran to stop developing ballistic missiles.

Suspected acts of sabotage in Iran's missile program are not new phenomena. On February 4 Iran's Minister of Telecommunications, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said three Iranian aerospace researchers have died in a fire that broke out at the Iranian Space Research Center affiliated with the ministry.

Jahromi said that the fire at the Space Research Center broke out while elsewhere at the center others were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Iran and did not notice what happened. However, he did not elaborate on the reason for the fire and the names of those who lost their lives in the incident.

In previous years, cyber-attacks on Iranian aerospace and nuclear centers have caused problems for Tehran's ambitious programs. These include a joint U.S.-Israeli cyber-attack caused a delay in Iran's nuclear program in 2011, the September 2016 fires at Iran's petrochemical plants due to sabotage in their software systems, and the 2011 explosion at an ammunition depot in Bidgeneh, near Tehran, killed the father of Iran's missile program, Hassan Tehrani Moqaddam as well as 16 other IRGC officers.