Hollow boasts of Iran’s technological prowess in recent days have placed a question mark over the Islamic Republic’s true capabilities.
Last week, Iran’s space agency announced it had launched a monkey into space on an indigenous rocket. While the country’s leaders said that the launch was part of their programme to put a man in space, there was little evidence that the country had actually sent the rocket to an altitude of 120km. The fact that the Iranians seem to have published photographs of two different monkeys, one before the launch and one after an alleged landing, suggested that the little astronaut, if there ever was one, did not return to earth in one piece.
Over the weekend, Iran reported that it had built a “stealth” jet fighter. This could have been a major achievement but the radar-evading plane was almost certainly a model and had so many aerodynamic flaws that it could never have taken off.
Then, adding to the intrigue, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared early this week that he wanted to be the first Iranian in space.
These announcements came during the “Ten Days of Dawn”, a series of events commemorating 34 years since Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution. The events were designed to emphasise Iran’s self-reliance in the face of international sanctions and isolation and, since foreign intelligence services were always unlikely to be impressed by these obvious charades, they appear to have been designed for local consumption.
Meanwhile, there are conflicting reports regarding Iran’s nuclear progress. A report by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) published last week said that Iran could reach “critical” military nuclear capability by mid-2014.
This is a year later than previous assessments and could be connected to the fact that Iran has reportedly slowed down its uranium enrichment in recent months and converted a large part of the uranium enriched to 20 per cent into nuclear fuel rods.
On the other hand, last week Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that its plans to install new upgraded centrifuges at the uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz. This would indicate that Iran is preparing to build a nuclear bomb in a short time, should it choose to do so.
Iran is also working at easing its diplomatic isolation. On Tuesday, Mr Ahmadinejad arrived in Cairo for the first visit by an Iranian leader to Egypt in more than three decades. He was met at the airport Egypt’s President, Mohamed Morsi, and the two held a 20-minute talk, focusing on the civil war in Syria.