It was almost like a play, with a few ridiculous characters to break the usual diplomatic decorum.
The Wikileaks-stained U.S. cables in November 2010 read like a parodied script of Alexander the Great’s ancient conquests, with a few altered leading roles to fill out the comedy. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was “Hitler,” Russia’s Vladimir Putin was the “Alpha male,” Nicolas Sarkozy of France was branded a “naked emperor,” all as allegedly described by U.S. officials and revealed in leaked documents.
A year later, and one of these names has destructively arisen again: Ahmadinejad as Hitler. The narrative stems from Israeli government chatter as the country grapples with the prospect of a nuclear Iran and how to “deal with it.” A report from the United Nations last week listed damning evidence that Iran is conducting research they hope will lead to an atomic weapon. Indeed, this would be enough to prompt Israel into military action against the ayatollahs. And no matter how much Ahmadinejad plugs it nuclear program as “peaceful,” there is no doubt that Israel fears the threat. Hence the Hitler title.
But he is not perhaps Israel’s Hitler, Ahmadinejad is more specifically Netanyahu’s Hitler, says Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea, who gave his take on what the Israeli premier could be thinking: “Ahmadinejad is Hitler; if he isn’t stopped in time, there will be another Holocaust.” He continued, “There are those who describe Netanyahu’s attitude on the matter as an obsession: All his life he dreamed of being Churchill; Iran gives him the opportunity.”
And this notion has not gone by unmissed, that perhaps Netanyahu wishes to go down in history as a leader who was able to completely fend off the danger threatening the existence of the Hebrew state, just as Churchill was able to eliminate the Nazis, who had threatened the world.
Perhaps Netanyahu lives this scenario, obsessed with World War II parallels, real or imagined, Barnea says. But would Iran, with its nuclear power, do what the Nazis did? Would it come remotely close? Doubt it. The obvious differences are clear and Ahmadinejad would never be a Hitler.
But for Israel, the ulimate fear from Iran is its involvement in the tit-for-tat scenarios between Israelis and Islamist groups; nuclear proliferation to strengthen groups such as Hezbollah or Hamas or other rogue partners. Iran could support them to no longer be the feeble Qassam rocket-bearers they once were.
But is that scenario worthy of revisiting a grim Jewish history with the mention of Hitler? It was only five years ago that Netanyahu said of the Iranian nuclear issue: “The year is 1938 and Iran is Germany.”
According to one military analyst, “people outside Israel don’t understand how profound memories of the Holocaust are, and how they affect future policy-making.”
“At the end of the day, this policy of ‘never again’ would dictate Israel’s behavior when intelligence comes through that Iran has come close to a bomb,” Ronen Bergman, senior military analyst for Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper, told The Telegraph.
For Israel, if Ahmadinejad really is Hitler, then Netanyahu has a chance at being Israel’s post-holocaust protector, and hero. But the Middle East remains on a spiteful loop. If Israel attacks, Iran can argue that it needs a nuclear bomb to protect itself from future attacks.
All the while, the roles of Hitler and Churchill are lurking in the shadows, waiting to be filled.
(Eman El-shenawi is a writer at Al Arabiya English.)