I'm reminded of Wernher von Braun's book I Aim For The Stars. Shortly after its publication, comedian Mort Sahl said it should have a subtitle: “But Sometimes I Hit London.” In this case, we could add “sometimes we hit Tel Aviv.” It's a little hard to believe that Iran has peaceful intentions, though the arrogance of the whole program has a small ring of truth. Planting the Iranian flag on the moon would be one helluva big deal.
So far, the Iranian space program has been fairly successful. It has launched a communications satellite. It has sent rats and turtles into space. Unfortunately, the monkey they tried to launch didn't make it. How much more it will be able to accomplish within the time frames it has set itself remains to be seen. The step from sending rats and turtles into space and sending live human beings into space and bringing them back safely is a very large one, even if the program weren't facing huge opposition from the outside.
Unfettered by internal restraints or external sanctions, China has experienced setback after setback in its space program. At the same time, Iran is hampered by moderately effective Western sanctions and opposition to its nuclear program. Before Iran can aim for the stars and “accidentally” hit Tel Aviv, it faces the very likely possibility that Israel will strike at both Iran's nuclear facilities and its missile launch sites.
As recently as this past week, Iran has reaffirmed its position that Israel must be wiped off the face of the map. It is unlikely that Iran would carry out that threat by flying Sopwith Camels over Israel and dropping bombs by hand. The Iranian air force is at best pathetic in comparison to the Israeli air force. But missiles, ah, missiles. Even with the best technology available, short range and intermediate range ballistic missiles are hard to stop once they've been launched. The difference between a missile launching men into space and a missile launching nuclear weapons at a nearby target is minimal.
Even the United States has to take notice of the fact that a missile which can launch men into space has intercontinental capabilities as well. New York, DC, and Los Angeles may be safe now, but for how much longer? During the days of the Cold War, America and the Soviet Union raced into space for national honor and scientific achievement, but were also honing their military capabilities. Still, even the hardliners in the Kremlin weren't suicidal, and mutually-assured destruction (MAD) kept both sides from thinking the unthinkable.
The same is not true of national leaders who believe that to die in the cause of jihad is an automatic entry into paradise, complete with seventy-two virgins awaiting their arrival. Vile, but not crazy described the Kremlin hardliners. Vile and crazy describes the Teheran hardliners. The Iranian people may not be in sync with the leadership on self-immolation, but the ayatollahs look at them as collateral damage.
So far, Iran's missile program has proceeded more successfully and more quickly than that of its Asian counterpart, North Korea. China is highly suspicious of North Korean missile capabilities, but both China and Russia have been exporting missile technology to Iran, in spite of and in defiance of international sanctions. It isn't just Israel and the United States who are leery of Iran's advancement in the missile field. Britain’s Foreign Office said the [most recent Iranian] launch underscored “our serious concerns about Iran’s intentions” and “sends the wrong signal to the international community which has already passed five successive UN Security Council resolutions on Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile program.” Of course, the UN is big on resolutions and nasty notes to crazy tyrants, but lagging seriously in actual action.
So someday soon, somebody is going to decide that Iran's space program is really an earth program and will take action against it. If Iran can't be persuaded to abandon its missile and nuclear programs, the result is not going to be pretty, nor is the outcome certain.