The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall asks a question that more journalists should be asking: “Where’s Rafsanjani?” Reportorial shorthand gives the impression that ultimate control of Iran’s politics resides with Supreme Leader Khameini. But while he exercises supreme executive power, Khameini serves at the pleasure of the Assembly of Experts, chaired by billionaire-cum-revolutionary-cum-former-Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Writes Tisdall:

Rafsanjani was said to be assessing whether he has sufficient votes in the 86-member Assembly of Experts to dismiss Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad’s chief patron. Under Iran’s constitution, only the assembly has the power to do this.

The super-rich Rafsanjani, his family, and his supporters in the reformist Kargozaran party make no bones about helping finance and direct Mir Hossein Mousavi’s campaign to topple Ahmadinejad, whom they despise. But with Mousavi ostensibly beaten, the developing post-election struggle now pits Rafsanjani against Khamenei rather than the president – who is widely seen as a mouthpiece for the hardline fundamentalism typified by the Supreme Leader. Although he is supposed to stay above the fray, Khamenei endorsed Ahmadinejad this time, just as in the second round of the 2005 election.

Before the election, Tisdall notes, Rafsanjani took the unusual step of writing an angry open letter to Supreme Leader Khamenei, in which he warned darkly that “there is no doubt that some people, parties, and factions will not tolerate” what he called Ahmadinejad’s “mis-statements and fabrications.” Granted, Rafsanjani was referring very specifically to comments Ahmadinejad made about Rafsanjani himself during the debates, in which the current president accused the former president of corruption. (Ironically, this particular part of Ahmadinejad’s performance was likely not a fabrication.)

Nevertheless, Rafsanjani remains the man to watch: should his tolerance wear thin as threatened, Khameini could be in serious trouble from the only governmental body with the constitutional authority to remove him. (By contrast, half the members of Iran’s Guardian Council, which has agreed to a partial recount of ballots, serve at Khameini’s pleasure. Members of the Guardian Council also pick who gets to run for president, and this year as in others, disqualified hundreds of reformist candidates. See the BBC’s intricate, indispensable flowchart for who answers to whom.) Tisdall hears that Rafsanjani might be meeting with the Association of Combatant Clerics, a reformist body under former President Mohammad Khatami, which has already called for the election results to be nullified.

And then?

In Iran, according to an anonymous letter from Tehran published by Salon two days ago, the writer says that “All eyes are now on Hashemi Rafsanjani.” The Western media would be wise to glance in the same direction.

Kathy Gilsinan is the associate editor at World Politics Review