"Rafsanjani was the last obstacle to consolidation of power of the hard-liners," says Mehdi Khalaji, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. His removal is "the last nail in the coffin of reform in Iran."
Khalaji's colleague at the Washington Institute, Michael Singh, sees it, in contrast, as a sign of the increasing isolation of Khamenei:
In my view this is the next step in what has been a long-unfolding consolidation of power by hardliners in Iran. In its current form, it began in the background during the presidency of Mohammed Khatami, picked up steam with the rigged election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, and accelerated further with the outbreak of the opposition Green Movement in 2009. [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei no longer makes any pretense of hovering above politics or balancing factions against one another, but rather relies increasingly on the hardest-line elements and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard for his authority. It is not just reformists who are shut out of the corridors of power now, but also traditional conservatives.
Khamenei may be motivated by the desire to eliminate any perceived threats to his absolute power, but one can't help but feel that the Iranian regime is increasingly a one-legged stool. In the short run this move may enhance Khamenei's power, but in the longer run it seems likely to unify his foes and give dissenting political factions in Iran -- reformist and conservative -- common cause.