So, at the end of the political drama on Tuesday in Parliament, Minister of Economy Shamseddin Hosseini avoided impeachment by a 141-93 vote.
But is that a resounding victory in Iran's internal conflict for President Ahmadinejad?
The stakes were important enough for Ahmadinejad to make a personal appearance, telling lawmakers that Hosseini had to be retained for the sake of unity amidst the serious enemy threats to Tehran.
Yet even that address --- despite a short video showing both the President's defiance and his attempt to sell his speech with humour and levity --- offered hostages to fortune. Ahmadinejad avoided the details of the $2.6 billion fraud case with the diversion that there were "structural problems" in the case against Hosseini. His ploy of invoking the enemy threat was clumsy --- in the same speech, he was also trying to maintain the line that the enemy's capitalist system was collapsing. Thomas Erdbrink was spot-on to note the President's stumble when he admitted, contrary to Iranian propaganda, that the sanctions were having a marked effect on the banking sector.
More importantly, Ahmadinejead's Minister survived --- at least in the public performance --- not because of Ahmadinejad but by a grand gesture by the President's sometimes rival and foe, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani. It was he, in what he called an extraordinary intervention, who asked MPs to give the Minister of Economy another chance, pending the judicial investigation into the fraud. And he wrapped that initiative, and himself, in the cloak of the Supreme Leader, invoking Ayatollah Khamenei's title to call for Hosseini's reprieve.
That step is politically more significant than The Wall Street Journal's emphasis on the five speeches against Hosseini and "only one" for the Minister. Ali Larijani was claiming the Solomon role --- as the Supreme Leader's representative, of course --- and he was also ensuring that the judiciary, under the command of his brother Sadegh, buttressed its position. After all, it is that body which now gets to make the political as well as the legal decisions over the bank fraud.
Beyond there may be a bigger story to analyse. Larijani's step, like Ahmadinejad's speech, can only be dissected for elements of weakness. The decoded message is that the Iranian system --- far bigger than Hosseini or Ahmadinejad --- was the decisive issue. An impeachment vote might have struck at the President, but it also would have given the impression of weakness and even fragmentation in the regime. So in the end, converging with Ahmadinejad's call for unity, the Speaker of Parliament (and, he was saying, Ayatollah Khamenei), said critical MPs needed to back away --- while remaining content that the power of salvation was with the system, not the President.
There may be a few days of catching breath in Tehran's politics, but by no means it is a breathing space for President Ahmadinejad. The theme of this year has been the attempts by other factions in the establishment --- Parliament, the judiciary, politicians, the Revolutionary Guards, and, often silently, the Supreme Leader --- to contain the President.
Yesterday, despite the impeachment numbers and Ahmadinejad's laughter, was just one tightening of the net.