For several years now it has been for the Israeli government and its American supporters the contention that President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad of Iran is the reincarnation of Hitler and Iran is another Nazi Germany. Having just finished reading the initial chapters of Ian Kershaw's Hitler Nemesis 1936-45 covering the 1936-39 period, I would like to review the main traits that Hitler exhibited in 1938 in dealing with Austria and Czechoslovakia:
- Hitler was head of a great power with well-led armed forces equipped with modern weapons.
- Hitler was a dictator with no real internal opposition after late 1937.
- Hitler was convinced that he had a great personal mission of giving Germany lebensraum in the East through "the sword" and destroying the imaginary Jewish threat to Germany.
- Hitler's health in 1939 was starting to go (largely because of his self medication with quack remedies) and he was convinced that he had little time left to him.
- Hitler was a natural gambler with a high tolerance for risk.
So how well do these traits apply to Iran today and to its leaders?
- Iran is a regional power with well-equipped armed forces but little ability to manufacture modern conventional arms beyond the small arms level, with the crucial exception of modifying missiles and building a nuclear weapon. Iran was unable to defeat Iraq in the 1980s and the U.S. Navy make quick work of the Revolutionary Guards Navy in 1988.
- Ahmedinajad is largely a ceremonial leader with limited powers. The real equivalent to Hitler in Iran is Ali Khamenei, the Imam Khomeini's successor and holding the position of Supreme Leader.
- Khomeini had the self-appointed mission of carrying out revolution throughout the Middle East and Muslim world; Khomeini bequeathed that mission to Khamenei and Khamenei will probably bequeath that mission to his successor.
- Ahmedinajad is in good health, but Khamenei is old and in poor health.
- Ahmedinajad and Khamenei are political rivals quarreling and trying to check each other.
- Both Ahmedinajad and Khamenei are much more cautious. They have more of an affinity for terrorism than for conventional invasion or nuclear war.
Iran bears much more of a resemblance to another European great power in the 1930s than to NaziGermany--the Soviet Union. Iran today resembles more the Soviet Union of the Brezhnev era. It has lost much of its revolutionary vigor and its population has lost its faith in the revolution. The intimidatory effect of the terror measures from 1979-89 when there were mass executions is wearing off. This was demonstrated by the Green Revolution of 2009 when there were mass protests against what was perceived as a stolen election. Expect Tehran with nuclear weapons to behave much like Tehran without nuclear weapons: engaging in terrorism throughout the world but being careful to not expose itself directly to retaliation. The Netanyahu government claims that Iran would not be deterred by another regional power having nuclear weapons (any guess as to whom he is referring). But Israel's intelligence community is unconvinced by this. Recently there has been a whole slew of former officials telling the media that Netanyahu is exaggerating the threat for political reasons.