The tone on the US presidential campaign trail is no less dire. GOP hopeful Rick Santorum recently told a crowd that if Iran gets nuclear weapons, "let me assure you, you will not be safe, even here in Missouri." One of his opponents, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, claims an Iranian strike on the US is "a real danger" that would make the 9/11 attacks look small. "Now imagine an attack where you add two zeros, and it's 300,000 dead," he said in early February. "This is not science fiction."
Yet it is also far from likely – even if Iran were to build a nuclear arsenal. In fact, say analysts and nonproliferation experts who have studied the effect of the bomb on countries, coexisting with a nuclear-armed Iran – or at least a nuclear-capable Iran – may well be possible, even inevitable, whether a military strike delays that outcome or not.
Analysts say Iran is not an irrational, suicidal actor that can't be deterred. Nor do they believe it is determined to destroy Israel at all costs. A recent Israeli think tank simulation of "the day after" an Iranian nuclear test came to the same conclusion: that nuclear annihilation will not automatically result.
Yet a nuclearized Iran would precipitate some profound changes across a chronically unstable region. Military balances would shift. Political relations among antagonists – and allies – would become more complicated. Israel would lose its nuclear hegemony in the Middle East.