One Missile Too Many

It was the shot that captured the imaginations of picture editors all over the world.

It provided a bold picture lead for the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times, the Chicago Tribune and a host of leading news Web sites across the world.

It showed four Iranian missiles hurtling into the sky above the desert. It proved irresistible.

The problem is, according to people who know about this sort of thing, is that there should be only three missiles.

An expert in digital picture editing told ABC News the second missile from the right appears to be a combination image of two other missiles in the group. In other words, the Iranians doctored the photo, perhaps using the widely available Photoshop program. A fourth missile appears to have been added.

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The apparently faulty image was first distributed by Agence France-Presse, which admitted it took it from the Web site of Sepah News, the media arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. The elite corps of the Iranian military that staged Wednesday's controversial missile test.

Gerard Isset, a photo technician with Granom, one of Paris' largest photo laboratories told AFP, "It's a doctored image; although the missiles weren't all equidistant from the camera, they're the same size in the picture."

Today AFP withdrew the photo. In its place it distributed a photograph showing only three missiles. The missile thought to be digitally added no longer appeared lifting off skyward but is seen still sitting on the ground stuck to its launcher.

The agency today said the fourth missile, "has apparently been added in digital retouch to cover a grounded missile that may have failed during the test."

As with so much of the current war of words between Iran and the West, symbolism and imagery have taken on new importance.

Wednesday's missile launch, which was followed by another set of test launches today was, according to several analysts, mostly about Iranian saber rattling, putting on a show for the audience at home, as well as for those watching in Tel Aviv and Washington.

A missile refusing to launch at the right moment, it seems, was something the Iranian propaganda machine couldn't allow.

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