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Analysts say Iran missile test was a bluff

Iran's war games this week featured more bluff and exaggeration than displays of menacing new power, military analysts said Friday.

The half truths, the analysts said, included not only a doctored photo of a salvo firing, but also misleading statements about the range of the largest missile and two videos that made the firings seem more numerous and fearsome than they really were.

“Deception was rampant,” said Charles Vick, an expert on the Iranian missile program at GlobalSecurity.org, a research group in Alexandria, Va.

“The bottom line is that the Iranians are tweaking our noses.”

The missile firings on Wednesday and Thursday shook the oil markets, helping drive up the price of crude to a record of more than $147 a barrel on Friday from $136 on Wednesday. That rise, if sustained, would mean billions of added dollars for Iran, one of the world's top oil exporters.

Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, estimated the oil price increase would add as much as $25 million a day to Iran's economy and wondered if that was accidental or deliberate.

Aside from the theater of the missile firings and the prospect of windfall oil revenues, Allison said, “The question is, does this represent any significant advance in any relevant military capability to do any damage? And I think the best judgment is, no.”

Analysts said an Iranian photograph released Wednesday that showed four missiles heading skyward had been digitally altered to make three firings look like four. The image appeared on the front pages of many newspapers and Web sites. On Thursday, the Iranians released a photo showing what appeared to be the same scene, but with a grounded missile that may have failed.

Descriptions of the big weapon in the extravaganza were also misleading, the analysts said. Iran's Arabic-language Al Alam television said the Shahab-3 had a range of about 1,250 miles. Many news reports carried that description.

Analysts said that extended range was true of the Shahab-3b. But the missile that the Iranians fired Wednesday, they added, was a less advanced model known as the Shahab-3a, which has a range of roughly 900 miles.

“They do systematically try to exaggerate the range,” Geoffrey Forden, a missile expert at MIT, said of Iranian descriptions of the Shahab. But he noted that the Shahab-3a could still “hit Israel.”

Analysts said the Shahab-3a was no longer in production.

Overall, Vick concluded, the two days of missile firings represented no escalation over what the Iranians have done in previous tests. Mark Mazzetti contributed.

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