By removing the powerful political veteran, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 76, from the top post as head of the important clerical body the Assembly of Experts, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has finally rid himself of his foremost rival and the most prominent proponent of the pro-democracy opposition to his hardline rule.
As a spiteful sequel to this purge, the president ordered the Assembly of Councils to publish an obituary notice Wednesday, March 9, mourning Rafsanjani's "death."
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources report hat Ahmadinejad will never rest until Rafsanjani is cast out to the political wilderness – preferably by his death – for daring to run against him as president five years ago.
A former president himself, Rafsanjani's fall is all the more dramatic compared with his omnipotence in the first two decades of the 1979 Islamic Revolutionary in Tehran, as the right hand of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the "Emam" – the title of adulation which put the revolution's founder on a par with the twelve Shiite saints. When Khomeini died, Rafsanjani was powerful enough to push Seyyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei through as his successor, although this candidate fell far short of the standards the Islamic constitution required of a Supreme Leader, who must bear the rank of ayatollah by virtue of his erudition and piety. Khamenei was then but a Hojjat-ol-Eslam.
No one questions Khamenei's authority any longer. The man who crowned him is stripped of his political assets, excepting only the leadership of the Expediency Council which is unlikely to be renewed next year. He also runs in fear of his life.
The rest of the Rafsanjani clan shares the persecutions and humiliations meted out by Ahmadinejad.
On March 5, Revolutionary Guards thugs attacked his daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, when she visited her aunt's grave and hurled insults at her and her father.
Father and offspring targeted for humiliations
Faezeh's crime was her support for the opposition leader Mir-Hossein Moussavi's 2009 campaign against the rigged election which gave Ahmadinejad his second term as president.
Both sons were also subjected to indignities.
One of Ahmadinejad's first actions as president was to have the Revolutionary Prosecutor General issue a warrant for the arrest of the youngest Rafsanjani son Mehdi and charging him with aiding and abetting the Moussavi election campaign with money and organization. His father got wind of the charge and whisked Mehdi over to London, telling him to stay there until it was safe to come home.
His exile is likely to be protracted.
Another son, Mohsen Rafsanjani, was forced to step down as head of the Tehran subway system, a $1 billion project, after being accused of diverting funds to his sponsorship of Moussavi's presidential run in 2009.
No one believed the charge for a moment, taking it for granted that it was trumped up to get Rafsanjani junior sacked from a high position. To cover his humiliation Mohsen explained on March 7, the day he was fired, that he had volunteered to step down "because he had been on the job for some years and the system required fresh hands."
Ahmadinejad lays ground for Khamenei's successor
His father also tried to safe face after he was voted out of the Assembly of Experts: He maintained he had never run for any office only bowed to the will of the movement and the common good.
In fact, the assembly voted no confidence in Rafsanjani by endorsing the ultra-conservative cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani, doddering at the age of 79, by a majority of 83 out of 85 members – all identified as Khamenei loyalists. Two were absent, one of whom, Ayatollah Ali-Mohammad Dast-Gheib, the senior cleric of the town of Shiraz, is an outspoken critic of Ahmadinejad.
While the vote was an outstanding demonstration of strength for the Supreme Leader, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Tehran report persistent rumors that he may be on his last legs from an advanced case of cancer and is not expected to last longer than a year or two. By removing Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad gave himself a free hand to choose his successor.
Rafsanjani himself endured setback after setback stoically with hardly a word of complaint. He knew that Khamenei and the Intelligence Ministry had accumulated dossiers with evidence of the corrupt commercial dealings whereby the Rafsanjani clan had amassed a vast fortune. Publicity would ruin him and expose him and his family to trial and possible death sentences.