It is absurd to compare Iran to Nazi Germany. The most important thing about the Nazis was their continuance: they developed long-existing policies to their logical end. For centuries, German society was anti-Semitic, militarist, disciplined, expansionist, supremacist, and xenophobic. Germans fought among themselves and against other Europeans. Nationalism was deliberately inflated for the purposes of German unification, and fitted into the core attitudes of supremacy and xenophobia. Since time immemorial, Germans were disciplined, ruthless soldiers. The Swiss and Danes, for example, were militaristic too, but had long passed the stage of nation-building which was very recent for Nazi Germany, and were therefore peaceful. France, Ukraine, Serbia, and most other European countries could have initiated Holocausts just like Germany; Ukraine did just that in the early twentieth century, and France efficiently collaborated with the Germans to bring the Holocaust about. Very few Germans were actively involved in genocide, but others concurred; the very same pattern was visible in France, Italy, and other countries. Anti-Semitism is endemic to Christian culture and actionable in Europe. In America, anti-Semitism was never encouraged officially, and Americans, though they dislike Jews, are unlikely to organize genocide.

Iran is not a Nazi state

Nothing of the sort holds for Iran. That country lacks entirely the history of anti-Semitic incitement and persecution typical of Germany and Europe generally. Most Iranian Jews emigrated, but they did so due for nationalistic (Israel) or economic (America) opportunities. Those who remained in Iran are not persecuted. It is foolish to compare the Iranian situation to the systematic brutal oppression of Jews in modern Syria, where they were correctly seen as Israel’s fifth column. It is all the more foolish to compare Iran to Germany. Still in the nineteenth century, German Jews lacked full citizenship, and popular parties vehemently opposed endowing Jews with full civil rights. German newspapers routinely published anti-Semitic articles and cartoons—a thing unheard of in Iran, where the line is carefully drawn between Zionism and Judaism, and even the anti-Zionist propaganda doesn’t remotely resemble the anti-Semitic fury in Germany. Unlike Iran, German culture is inherently anti-Semitic, with the short-lived Weimar Republic being the only exception. Germany was anti-Semitic in the fourteenth century, in the twentieth, and in the twenty-first.

It is not implausible to suggest that Iran, though tolerant toward Jews, could annihilate a Zionist state. But given Iran’s track record, that’s extremely unlikely. Iran was never expansionist in modern history. It did not start any aggression. Even in the story of the Tunbs Islands, Iran painstakingly followed a diplomatic path until Sharjah secretly asked it to invade the Tunbs so that the emir could give the island away to overwhelming force, thus saving his face. Iran’s operations in Lebanon come nowhere close to Syria’s blunt intervention. True, Iran supports resistance movements in Lebanon and Palestine, but Israel likewise supports the Kurds. Almost every considerable state supports some foreign guerrillas to extend its influence.

If Iran is so good, why are the Arabs hysterical over its nuclear program? That’s because Iran is building a Shia empire. Unlike the Sunnis, Shia are loyal to the ayatollah rather than to their country of residence. Shiite influence in Sunni states guarantees civil unrest and undermines local governments. Arabs tend to side with the strong, and nuclear Iran will increase the popularity of Shia Islam. Egypt will no longer enjoy a free hand in arbitrating intra-Arab disputes, and the whole balance of power will shift. Arabs, however, readily adjust themselves, and so Egypt and Saudi Arabia have strengthened their ties with Iran recently.

Iran will use its nuclear weapons to provide Syria and Lebanon with a defensive shield, but won’t bomb Israel. Unlike the Germans, the Iranian army is deficient and cannot conduct mobile warfare. Iranian ballistic missiles are susceptible to Israel’s air defenses, and won’t score devastating hits. Sanctions and inefficiency bled the Iranian economy, and Iranians cannot secretly militarize in the manner of the Germans. The Iranian leadership is very conservative and exerts control over Ahmadinejad, which is exactly the opposite situation to the German parliament’s lack of control over the Nazis.

That being said, nothing is certain. Iran fought Iraq with chemical weapons and suffered retaliation in kind. It marched its teenage soldiers to sap the minefields. It lost an immense number of soldiers in a pointless (though defensive) war with Iraq. Iran can retaliate for Israel’s attacks on its nuclear facilities with chemical and radiological weapons, and disregard the consequences. Actually, there would be no consequences, as Israel cannot conduct a protracted war with Iran: that country is too large and too far. A missile exchange is the likely scenario. The Israeli establishment drums up the Iranian nuclear threat as it covers Israel’s inability to deal with the real, credible, and immense nuclear threats from Pakistan and North Korea, which are almost certain to pass nuclear weapons to Arab regimes and terrorists.

The very existence of the Iranian military nuclear program is uncertain. If America had positive evidence of the military program, Bush would have produced it after the National Intelligence Estimate discredited his anti-Iranian policy. In at least two briefs to the IAEA on Iran’s military nuclear research, the US Administration produced no substantial evidence of it, though the briefs were aimed at bolstering international support for sanctions. Israel offered America all the evidence of Iran’s illicit activities that she has, but apparently it was unconvincing to the CIA, IAEA, and the diplomats. Struggling for international support against Iran, Israel would have made public every shred of evidence: telling that such-and-such a program takes place in such-and-such location doesn’t tremendously endanger the spies. Chances are, however, that Iran indeed conducts a military nuclear program, and we cannot take chances.

So Iran is a threat which must be dealt with. It is not, however, anything like Nazi Germany.