ISRAEL, OBSESSED with the prospect of nuclear weapons in the hands of the Iranian leadership, may inadvertently destroy itself-that is, cease to exist as a coherent Jewish state-without a single shot being fired or bomb blowing up. In particular, overwrought and underexamined fears that Iran simply might obtain a bomb could lead to substantial Jewish emigration from Israel. When this is coupled with the potentially disastrous consequences of an Israeli attack on Iran, there is a danger that Israel's future could be imperiled.
In spite of its remarkable successes, Israel faces several key hurdles. It is surrounded by countries filled with hostile people, some of whom continue to present a persistent terrorism threat; it has followed a program, almost universally considered illegal, of erecting settlements in occupied territories and seems incapable of reversing this process; it is confronted by an ominous demographic dilemma in which Jews, already a minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, may eventually become an uncomfortably narrow majority within Israel proper, a dilemma that in turn is creating heavy pressures to protect Jewish control of the government by sacrificing democracy; prospects for any kind of negotiated peace are diminishing; and the country faces pariah status in the international community. It is against this backdrop that Israel confronts the prospect of a potentially nuclear-armed Iran.