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Iran’s Ahmadinejad not anti-Israeli enough?

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was just taken down a peg or two – by the man many Iranians believe helped him steal last month’s presidential election from challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi.

On Wednesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, who in Iran’s theocratic system wields ultimate state power, disqualified Mr. Ahmadinejad’s appointed top deputy. Why? Because of right-wing anger that his choice, close friend and relative by marriage Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, said last year that Iran was a friend to the whole world, “even Israelis.”

It was a rare and direct intervention by a cleric who prefers to wield power quietly – and comes as opposition leaders have been searching for a chink in the united front that right-wing clerics and Ahmadinejad supporters have presented as proreform protests have been brutally crushed.

The tale of how Ayatollah Khameini came to split with the man he backed for the presidency sheds light on the diversity of factions and opinions in Iran, even among and within the camps that are generally described as “hard-line” and “reformist.”

With political power comes vast patronage opportunities in Iran, and analysts of the country say the furor kicked up over Mr. Mashai was caused, at least partially, by political figures sending a message to Ahmadinejad that he will not have it all his own way as president.

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