According to defence and photography experts, a fourth rocket was digitally added to this picture before it was published by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on Wednesday. The international media picked up the image.
A defence analyst said on Thursday that Iran had apparently doctored photographs of missile test-firings and exaggerated the capabilities of the weapons.
Iran on Wednesday test-fired nine missiles -- including a Shahab-3 it said was capable of reaching Israel -- angering the United States amid fears that the standoff over the Islamic republic's contested nuclear drive could lead to war.
Photographs published on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards website showed four missiles taking off from a desert launchpad.
But one of the missiles had apparently been added to the photograph using elements from the smoke trail and dust clouds from two of the other missiles.
After being shown the photograph by AFP, Mark Fitzpatrick of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said: "It very much does appear that Iran doctored the photo to cover up what apparently was a misfiring of one of the missiles.
"The whole purpose of this testing was to send a signal so Iran both exaggerated the capabilities of the missile in their prose and apparently doctored the photos as well."
In Washington, a US intelligence official also urged caution about information released by Iran.
"While I cannot comment one way or the other on these particular photos, it would be wrong to assume that the US intelligence community accepts at face value what the Iranians disclose about their missile tests," the official said.
The state-run Iranian channel Al-Alam said the missiles test-fired by the Revolutionary Guards included a Shahab-3 with a one-tonne conventional warhead and a range of 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles).
But Fitzpatrick, a former US State Department official, said: "In terms of capability, they claimed the Shahab-3 could travel 2,000 kilometres carrying a one-tonne warhead. This is very unlikely.
"The Shahab-3 normally has a range of 1,300 kilometres and the range can be extended to 2,000 kilometres but it would require a much lighter warhead.
"This is typical of Iran to exaggerate the accomplishments of the missiles and its nuclear programme."
Several experts on photography agreed that the photograph had been manipulated.
"It's a doctored image," said Gerard Issert, a technician at Granon, one of the largest photo laboratories in Paris.
"Although the missiles weren't all equidistant from the camera, they're the same size in the picture," Issert told AFP in the southern French city of Arles.
A defiant Iran test-fired more missiles on Thursday, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Tehran that Washington had beefed up its security presence in the Gulf and would not hesitate to defend Israel and other allies in the region.
The United States believes Iran is covertly developing nuclear weapons, a claim denied by the Islamic republic which insists the purpose of its programme is energy.
Date created : 2008-07-11