As I watched the 23-minute video of Monday's raid by Iranian security forces on the offices of the newspaper Iran, using tear gas and electric batons to seize President Ahmadinejad's senior advisor Ali Akbar Javanfekr --- while Javanfekr's staff tried to block their way and set fire to papers --- I was reminded of our response last week to the declaration, "Ahmadinejad has risen like a phoenix from the ashes": "The pendulum does not swing that far. Rocky does not throw a climactic punch. The Phoenix does not rise."
I was reminded of our projection throughout this year that, while Ahmadinejad would not be directly confronted to the point of forcing his resignation or dismissing him from office, he will be contained, picking off his advisors one by one through firings and arrests.
And I was reminded of the President's theatrical declaration this summer, trying to resist that containment, that there was a "red line" against the prosecution or persecution of his inner circle.
That "red line" has been crossed.
Ostensibly, Ali Akbar Javanfekr's crime, with the sentence of one year in prison and a three-year ban on journalism, was his management of a newspaper which, in a special issue on ladies' fashion, published an evaluation finding inspiration for the all-body chador worn by some Iranian women from a Shah's observation of European females in black evening dresses.
His political crime, however, was to go to a reformist newspaper on Saturday and lay out the scene of a President's camp remaining true to the course of the Islamic Revoution while "principlists" --- not reformists, but principlists, the movement associated with Ahmadinejad's rise to power --- had become the deviants.
This was no emotional spilling of the heart; this was a calculated move from the head. During the escalation of conflict within the establishment over the last year, the term "deviant current" has become the marker for the President's advisors, including Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, Vice Presidents Mohammad Reza Rahimi and Hamid Baghaei, and now Javanfekr. With his Saturday comments, Javanfekr was trying to turn that stigmatising label back on Ahmadinejad's challengers.
Within 24 hours, the newspaper which conducted the interview had been shut, and Javanfekr's prison sentence had been announced.
But that was not enough punishment of the advisor and, through him, the President --- there also had to be humiliation. In a telling comment yesterday after the raid, Javanfekr said the force was necessary, as he would have accepted a summons for his imprisonment.
However, on Monday morning, Javanfekr had effectively ruled that out when he made one last challenge. He summoned journalists --- including at least one foreign journalist, Thomas Erdbrink of The Washington Post --- to the Iran offices. There he repeated his criticisms from Saturday. He added to them with the challenge that, while the President backed the Supreme Leader, the clerics near Ayatollah Khamenei might not be reliable or good for the Islamic Republic.
Ahmadinejad's senior advisor was counter-attacking: if the President's camp could be assaulted, then a verbal war could be waged against anyone up to the ultimate "red line" of velayat-e faqih (clerical supremacy of the Supreme Leader).
The counter-attack lasted no more than a few minutes. If a foreign journalist knew of Javanfekr's move, so did the President's foes. Security forces were waiting and, as soon as the reporters departed, they went after Javanfekr.
So where is the political battlefront this morning? It might be argued that this was a specific fight with Javanfekr. Once he is removed, whether in a prison cell or in professional oblivion, then the source of the tension is gone.
That, however, is far too simple. It is not that Javanfekr has to be go; President Ahmadinejad has to accept that he is gone. And with that acceptance comes the recognition that his "red line" is gone as well.
There was a telling moment in the drama yesterday. As Ali Akbar Javanfekr was sitting in a chair in handcuffs, his face bruised, as 33 staff of Iran were arrested, as the building was ransacked, the President had to call the security forces and ask them to back off. They did so (after speaking with whom?), to the point of letting Javanfekr avoid immediate detention, but the point was made.
Beg, Mahmoud. Beg us to let you and your advisors survive.
If Ahmadinejad is to do more than survive, to the point of completing his term in office, he has to fight back, not only to re-establish his red lines but to strike a blow at those who want his demise.
For that fight, he needs more than the tenacity which has taken him this far. He needs allies. And at the moment, I do not see where he will find those reinforcements.