It's as if for these past four decades, "Hashemi" – as he is popularly know in Iran (adversaries call him "The Shark") – was always there.
Few would be as well equipped to draw a succinct portrait of the politically chameleonic qualities of Hashemi The Shark as Prof. Syed Mohammad Marandi, dean of the Faculty of World Studies at Tehran University.
Marandi notes, "He was an extraordinary smart person, who was also a political genius. His alliances easily shifted, since he saw himself as a centrist. In the late 1980s and 1990s the leftists (later reformists) hated him and claimed that he was pro-American and a liberal capitalist who crushed the poor. At that time he was close to the conservatives (later principalists), but the leftists (later reformists) couldn't hurt him especially in the 1980s when he was very popular."
Confused? Well, that's Iran's complex/convoluted politics in a nutshell; nothing can be understood if one does not apprehend the nuances between principalists (those faithful to the radical precepts of the revolution) and reformists (some now within the current Rouhani administration, some silenced for good).
Exceptionalists don't do dialogue
Even after his own presidency, Rafsanjani remained in the spotlight. He vigorously supported suave reformist cleric Mohammad Khatami in the 1997 presidential elections. Khatami won hands down and proposed a "dialogue of civilizations" to include the US but that was predictably spurned, ruthlessly, and foolishly, by Washington.
Here's Marandi on the late 1990s: "When Khatami came to power (and suddenly jumped from a form of Islamic Revolutionary Socialism to Liberal Capitalism) Rafsanjani's people led a smear campaign claiming that Khatami was the root of all evil. As a result Rafsanjani was crushed in the sixth parliamentary elections along with his conservative (later principalist) allies."
Then came the Ahmadinejad earthquake – in 2005. Rafsanjani, once again running, led the first round; but lost the second round to the hardcore populism of Ahmadinejad. The world remembers, with trepidation, that during the second part of the 2000s Washington, under Bush 2, was always a click away from "nuking Iran".
Marandi explains how Ahmadinejad won" "When Ahmadinejad came along calling for social justice, the former left and Rafsanjani and his people were all crushed, while the principalists largely supported him. Ahmadinejad again crushed Mousavi (Rafsanjani's man) in the next elections, but principalists gradually moved away from him (because of his provocative and divisive language, impulsive decisions). And when the sanctions hit, he was politically isolated."
Still Hashemi The Shark was far from politically dead" "Principalists were divided, so Rafsanjani brilliantly created a coalition of his people, reformists, and a faction within the principalists and brought Rouhani to power."
So in a nutshell, since the late 2000s Rafsanjani had been the de facto top articulator in and around the reformists, as well as other factions marginalized in the political area. He was the certified bête noire of the principalists. And that could not but pit him, occasionally, against Supreme Leader Ayatollah........