The US President Donald Trump denied any involvement in an explosion during Iran’s preparations for launching a space satellite on Thursday, Aug. 29. He tweeted on Friday that the US “was not involved in the catastrophic accident during launch preparations for the Safir,” adding, “I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened.”
Iran’s state media and officials did not immediately acknowledge the incident. However, satellite images showed the rocket exploding on the launchpad at Imam Khomeini Space Center, 240km south of Tehran. A black plume of smoke rose above what looked like the charred remains of a rocket and its launch stand.
It was Iran’s third failed satellite launch this year. Images of the space center suggested that the rocket either exploded during ignition or possibly briefly lifted off before crashing back down on the pad.
DEBKAfile reports: Safir was designed to place in orbit a Nahid-1 communications satellite. The US president’s extraordinary action in denying any involvement in the explosion, a denial that implicitly covers sabotage by a cyberattack, raises questions about the cause of the “catastrophic accident.” Trump may be assumed to know the answer. His use of the adjective “catastrophic” suggests that there were casualties, including Iran scientists
The United States has been concerned that the technology Iran uses to put satellites in orbit would help Tehran develop ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Tehran has denied the accusation that its space program is a cover for ballistic missile development.
US offensive cyber campaign disabled Iran’s strike capabilities
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is still recovering from the damage it suffered by an offensive American cyber campaign against it that took place in June, according to sources. The attack allegedly degraded the IRGC’s ability to strike at oil tankers and other ships in the Persian Gulf. The New York Times said on Thursday that the cyber attack took place on June 20, hours after United States President Donald Trump called off airstrikes on Iran. The White House had considered launching the airstrikes in retaliation against the downing of an American surveillance drone by Iranian forces and their alleged use of limpet mines against commercial oil tankers by the IRGC the previous month.
The paper did not reveal details of the cyber campaign, but said it did not target any part of Iran’s missile or other defense programs. Its mission was to degrade the covert strike capabilities of the IRGC, which operates in a paramilitary capacity and is not supervised by the military. Washington blamed the IRGC for the limpet mine attacks against oil tankers, and expressed concerns that they would continue. The cyber attack corrupted the computer databases and communications networks that the IRGC uses to co-ordinate covert operations at sea, and resulted in the temporary cessation of IRGC attacks on oil tankers, said The Times.
The June 20 cyber attacks were not meant to be permanent but their effects have endured much longer than was expected, according to the paper. It cited claims by anonymous senior American officials that the IRGC is “still trying to repair critical communications systems and has not recovered the data lost in the attack”. It is also worth noting that, according to US sources, Iran did not escalate its own cyber attacks against Western targets in retaliation to the American cyber campaign against the IRGC.
However, according to The Times, some American officials have expressed doubts about the wisdom and long-term impact of the cyber operation. They claim that the cyber attack gave the Iranians the opportunity to collect valuable information about US cyber capabilities. It also allowed them to detect and fix their vulnerabilities so that they are now better able to defend against future cyber attacks. Lastly, the attacks neutralized IRGC communications networks, which the US had penetrated and was collecting vital intelligence from, they argue.