According to Fox News, Iran launched a Mersad surface-to-air missile from the Semnan launch site Feb. 8 in its third missile test since U.S. President Donald Trump took office. Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan denies the allegations. Regardless, it is odd that such an event is garnering attention at all. It is extremely common for countries to test surface-to-air missiles: The United States and other major military powers test similar missiles almost daily. It seems that U.S. media outlets may have confused concern over another planned launch with the one on Feb. 8.
Iran had been planning to launch what U.S. officials believed was a Safir rocket — a 2-stage expendable launch vehicle modeled off the Shahab ballistic missile family — from the Semnan launch facility, likely over the weekend in celebration of the 38th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. But there were indications earlier this week that the mission had been cancelled, perhaps in an effort to contain tension between Iran and the United States. It is also probable that there are technical reasons for scrubbing the launch. Iran has tested only a few Safir rockets, the last in 2015, and is still perfecting its rocket launch technology. And it will, in fact, be perfected. Ballistic missiles are essentially sub-orbital flights of expendable launch vehicles and much of the technology is transferrable from one to the other, particularly when it comes to the rocket engine and navigational and related technologies.
The launch of the Mersad missile is of much less concern to the United States. It's an old air defense system that Tehran has been routinely testing in central Iran to develop a longer range variant. The United States is not likely to pay much attention to it, especially since Washington did not rise up over two other tests last weekend.
It is also worth noting that the launches have been decreasingly provocative. The first launch, which failed, was of a medium range ballistic missile and provoked U.S. sanctions. The second test was a series of launches of three different short-range missiles (ranging from 60 to 75 kilometers). It was part of a war games test that was announced before the ballistic missile test so was likely not intended as retaliation for the sanctions. The third test was of the Mersad system, which is of little import to Washington. So, whether the United States responds or not, Iran will continue to develop its missile program. The question is whether it does so offensively or defensively.