Iranian general emerges as central figure as tensions with US rise over amid ballistic programme
ISTANBUL--Iranian Brigadier-General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force, is emerging as a central figure in the latest tensions between Tehran and Washington.
Hajizadeh, 58, oversaw the launch of Iran’s first military satellite last week, according to US officials quoted by Reuters. The launch deepened concerns that Iran may be working on technology to build intercontinental ballistic missiles. The general told Iranian television Iran had become a “superpower” with the satellite launch.
Pictures showed Hajizadeh standing next to the rocket that brought the satellite into space on April 22. The Iranian Mehr news agency quoted the general as saying that the launcher “Ghased” (Messenger) worked with a combination of liquid and solid fuel. Iran said the “Noor” (Light) satellite reached its orbit as planned.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has developed these capabilities in recent years and with the help of Almighty God and we will take the next steps quickly,” Hajizadeh said, according to Mehr.
A US official told Reuters that the space shot was from “a rapid deployment, mobile launch system, which is inconsistent with any civilian application.”
“This was a space launch conducted by the Iranian military for military purposes,” the official said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of violating a 2015 UN Security Council resolution against Tehran advancing any nuclear-capable ballistic missile activities.
Pompeo called for the United Nations to extend its conventional arms embargo on Iran beyond its scheduled end in October.
“All peace-loving nations must reject Iran’s development of ballistic-missile-capable technologies and join together to constrain Iran’s dangerous missile programmes,” he said.
The head of the US Space Command said the Pentagon believes that the Iranian satellite does not pose any intelligence threat.
“Iran states it has imaging capabilities — actually, it’s a tumbling webcam in space; unlikely providing intel,” General Jay Raymond tweeted.
While Raymond downplayed any threat from the satellite, the United States has warned that Tehran’s ability to place it into space represents a significant advance in its long-range missile capability, posing a greater threat to US forces and allies in the Middle East.
With tensions running high between Tehran and Washington, US President Donald Trump said he had instructed the US Navy to fire on any Iranian ships that harass it at sea.
Hajizadeh was also closely involved in Iranian missile attacks on US forces in Iraq in January in response to an American drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite al-Quds Force. The Iranian strikes did not kill any US soldiers, but more than 100 were later diagnosed with traumatic brain injury.
In case of a US counterattack after the missile strikes in Iraq, his units had been ready to strike 400 American targets, Hajizadeh said. The general was also behind the downing of a US military drone in the Gulf last June.
As head of the Guard’s aerospace force, Hajizadeh took responsibility in January for the downing of an Ukrainian passenger jet near Tehran that killed 176 people.