02/07/2012 06:02 EST | Updated 04/08/2012 05:12 EDT

Comparing Iran to Nazi Germany not helpful, says ex-Clinton adviser

OTTAWA - Making "breathless" comparisons between modern day Iran and Nazi Germany is excessive and unhelpful in the face of a dangerously escalating situation, says a point man for Bill Clinton's Middle East peace initiatives.

Robert Malley, head of the International Crisis Group's Middle East program, offered that view in an interview Tuesday just days after Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird made just such a comparison from Israel.

"I think there's been a breathless quality to what people have said about Iran, sometimes comparing them to Hitler and the 1930s. I've heard some of the politicians in my country say that. Again, I have no idea what's being said here," Malley told The Canadian Press.

Malley is a former U.S. national security adviser in the Bill Clinton administration on the Middle East and has been the lead analyst on the region at the respected non-governmental organization for a decade. He helped the Clinton administration craft a peace pact that was rejected at the last minute by former Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat in 2000.

Malley expanded on the threats posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions after a speech on the tumultuous changes in the Middle East and North Africa at the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa on Tuesday.

He was also speaking two days after Baird appeared on CTV's Question Period and invoked images of the Holocaust in defending the notion of possible Israeli military action against Iran.

Baird suggested Israel has every right to feel threatened and noted recent comments by Iran's supreme leader vowing to remove a "cancer" from the Middle East.

"Obviously you can understand why the Jewish people and why Israel would take him seriously," Baird said in an interview with the news program from Israel, where he had wrapped up an official visit.

"Hitler wrote Mein Kampf more than a decade before he became Chancellor of Germany. And they take these issues pretty seriously here."

It wasn't the first time Baird used the Holocaust analogy to defend Israel and strike back it critics of the Jewish state. He evoked it during his address to the United Nations General Assembly last September.

Malley said the rhetoric on Iran "has got out of whack on both sides." But he noted that what Iran has said is "more morally outrageous."

Having served under Clinton, Malley said he realizes governments can face harsh criticism for not speaking out against enemies.

But you can go too far, especially in the case of Iran, where the stakes are so high.

"I don't know that it helps to builds one's enemies, the West's enemies, into greater powers than they are. The U.S. did it with Saddam Hussein," said Malley.

"I don't know how useful that is."

Malley said he was unaware of Baird's comments or the recent pronouncements by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that Iran is the greatest threat to world peace on the planet.

The West accuses Iran of pursuing nuclear power to build a nuclear bomb. But Iran maintains it is pursuing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

Malley does not discount the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. But he said the country isn't there yet.

"Sometimes rhetoric gets ahead of reality in terms of how close the Iranians are to doing something. They may be close to the capacity to build a bomb," he said.

Malley said in the interview that Iran's leaders have likely drawn lessons Libya and North Korea.

In Libya, they saw Moammar Gadhafi abandoned weapons of mass destruction and was eventually deposed. In North Korea, they have seen leadership there develop the bomb and hold power.

Malley said the current situation is not yet close to calling for military intervention in Iran. "Military confrontation could have extremely dangerous implications."

In his speech, Malley warned that the world was engaged in "a collective march of folly could lead down a path of widespread conflagration" with Iran.