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The most interesting aspect of Iran's tempering of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's verbal assault on Israel is the source of the statements.

While it was Iran's information minister and the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry who spoke with foreign news agencies yesterday, they were preceded by Ahmadinejad's main political rival, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, during his Friday sermon at a Tehran mosque. (See story on page 3.)

"We have no problems with Jews, and highly respect Judaism as a holy religion," Rafsanjani said.

"We only have problems with Zionist circles in Israel, which we hold responsible for the suppression of the Palestinian nation," Rafsanjani continued.

"Iran has no physical presence in Palestine, and all we do is aid the Palestinians spiritually, ideologically and medically," Rafsanjani said, in a statement that implies the absence of Iranian military aid to the Palestinians.

With regard to the peace process, Rafsanjani said, "Palestine is very important for us and we defend their legitimate rights to return to their homelands, but we are also willing to help end their misery." In other words, even the peace process is not a thorn in Rafsanjani's side.

These words, which were intended to soften the sharp edges of the harsh remarks made by Ahmadinejad, are interesting less for their content than for the fact that they delineate the deep disagreement that began about three months ago between Ahmadinejad and several important entities in Iran.

The Iranian president has angered the Majlis by refusing to answer the questions of parliament members regarding his policies. The MPs took their revenge by rejecting his choice of four new cabinet ministers.

Ahmadinejad does not follow the advice of economists who seek a new petroleum policy for the country, and he has angered some of his conservative supporters, who have seen plum government positions go to Revolutionary Guards, intelligence agents and friends of the president whose ultraconservative views even they consider anachronistic.

As a result of this rift, Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has ordered all government activities to be monitored by a powerful committee charged with defending the interests of the state that is the final arbiter on government law and policy. It is headed by Rafsanjani, who is now authorized to determine the agenda of the government.