Photo by NASA
Yesterday it was announced that Iran had successfully shot a monkey 75 miles into space and got the little guy safely back down again. It was apparently the first step towards their premier manned space mission, which is supposed to be taking place by 2020. Hey Iran, big fucking whoop. The Yanks have been firing helpless monkeys into space since the late 40s and the Russians got their first man up there 50 years ago.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for other nations breaking the hegemony of space travel held by more developed countries, Richard Branson and Red Bull, but for a country with far more pressing issues at hand, it's hard to understand why they've chosen to waste millions on sending animals into the great unknown. You may think me a cynic, but I smell a rat. Iran has been subjected to a series of self-inflicted PR cluster-fucks recently and I have a feeling that this rather unspectacular venture into space is just a mostly translucent smokescreen doing its best to cover up a country on the edge.
So what has Iran got to hide? Well, quite a lot, actually. You see, not even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would risk PETA's pouting temper-tantrum without it being worth something in the long run – something like the "space venture" actually being a long-range missile test. For the last few years, the world media's focus on Iran has been their apparent desire to join the big swinging dicks of the nuclear club, and if you want nukes, you need missiles to launch them. But every time Iran has tested a new missile, the West gets butthurt and implements more sanctions.
So what better way to avoid the aggro than disguise the next missile test as a harmless, seemingly borderline amateur attempt at space exploration? Pioneer, the missile used to blast the monkey into space, reached an altitude of around 100km. While that isn't the furthest Iranian missiles have travelled, any successful missile test that doesn't require the assistance of Photoshop is a big, threatening imperialism-crusher of a "fuck you" to the US, so I imagine it's keeping them pretty content.
Although the missile test cover-up is the most practical theory, the space exploration attempt comes after a long period of bad PR for the Iranian regime. The most recent of which was another explosion at one of their nuclear facilities. The huge explosion at the Fordow facility last week trapped 240 of the workers deep underground and forced authorities to introduce a ban on traffic within 15 miles in a desperate attempt to stop anyone from finding out about the flames and smoke you could see from miles away.
As usual, information is scarce, so there are plenty of theories as to what may have caused the explosion – a simple accident or an earthquake are two of the more reasonable suggestions. Some are claiming this is another act of sabotage (something fairly common in Iran's nuclear industry) or a precision air strike by the US, who are the only country capable of taking out such a facility in an attempt to slow down Iran's nuclear ambitions. Another possibility is that there wasn't actually an explosion at all and the story was planted in the press by Israeli intelligence. Because countries punking each other on the world scale is apparently a thing now.
Whatever the explanation for the explosion – and even if didn't happen at all – it's yet another embarrassing incident for Iran's nuclear program. And in this period of cold war-esque relations between themselves and US and Israel, looking vulnerable is not something the regime really needs.
Iran goes to the polls in June, and already the supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeni has stated his intentions for the election, branding the term "free elections" as "a slogan of the fomenters of revolt". In an attempt to stop a repeat of the 2009 post-election violence, the government has been cracking down hard on any apparent dissent. Pro-democracy activists in prison have smuggled out letters detailing their rape-as-punishment by other criminals. Members of Iran's Arab minority have also fallen foul of the crackdown, with five Ahwazis now facing the death penalty, all for the unbearably evil crime of supporting Arab culture.
On top of that, 11 journalists were arrested on Sunday for having "foreign contacts", which – you know – is kind of essential if you're a journalist who doesn't want to write fluffer articles for local press. Iran needs to show that its elections are free and fair to the outside world and that there is no interference with the media, domestic or foreign, but these recent events show nothing but the absolute opposite and suggest the country is struggling to gain control over the voting masses.
A longer-running and possibly more pressing issue for Iran is its nose-diving economy. The regime hasn't denied its interest in nuclear technology, which the US, the EU and Israel are adamant is revolving around an interest in building a nuclear bomb. Because it's only fair that the US and the EU get to have nukes while no one in the Middle East does, Iran has faced heavy economic sanctions that are crippling the country's economy. Inflation is at 30 percent, there's been a 50 percent drop in oil revenue (which accounts for 50 to 60 percent of overall government revenue) and there's also been a steep rise in unemployment and food prices.
This economic hardship already lead to riots last year and the government has so far done little to ease the pain of the sanctions, making future trouble more likely. With economic problems coinciding with a highly anticipated election full of violent tension, the Iranian government faces a big test this year. Regardless of the reasons, this venture into space will be touted as a triumph of Iranian engineering and could be a potential morale boost on the home-front, which is clearly a strong start for the regime.
But what if it genuinely was an attempt at space exploration? Iran loves nothing more than getting one over the Western pig-dogs, whether that's by showing off its "capture" of an American drone or sending a monkey into space. Maybe we're missing the point completely and this is all an attempt by the Iranians to colonise a section of the moon with an Islamic caliphate run by monkeys in the most elaborate troll ever conceived? I really hope it is.
Whether it was a smokescreen or not, Iran has some serious domestic issues that threaten to tear the country apart, and the regime needs to start taking notice of them. The most sensible thing they could do would be to open their nuclear facilities to UN inspectors and allay any fears the West might have, which may lead to a loosening or complete withdrawal of sanctions and kick-start the economy back into something that isn't a complete fucking disaster. Or don't invite the inspectors, let the sanctions drag the economy down further, risk more riots and more social unrest, which could all lead to an Arab Spring-style revolution just in time for the election.
Sadly for the regime, shooting monkeys into space isn't going to change any of that.
Follow Henry on Twitter: @Henry_Langston
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