I had to read the editorial in Haaretz twice to be sure I’d read correctly. “At this late and critical stage of the conflict,” wrote the voice of the Israeli left on August 8, “the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] must propose, recommend and indeed must demand political approval — public approval is clearly assured — for extensive operations that can snatch a victory from the jaws of looming defeat.”

Was Haaretz, which has always upheld the preeminence of Israel’s civil authority over its military authority and regards generals as potential Dr. Strangeloves, really urging the army to “demand” that the politicians back its battle plans? Had any other Israeli newspaper done so, it would have been accused — foremost by Haaretz itself — of advocating a soft putsch. Haaretz’s stunning militancy is indicative of the growing frustration and depression Israelis feel at the prospect of not winning the war against Hezbollah — which really means losing the war.

With the emerging cease-fire, it appears that is about to happen. And that’s why so many Israelis regard the prospect of a cease-fire as a disaster. Under the cease-fire terms, authority for securing the northern border will be transferred to an “augmented” U.N. force which has, in the past, proven not merely ineffectual but often appeared complicitous with Hezbollah. Almost certainly, Anan will link Hezbollah’s disarmament to an Israeli withdrawal from Shebaa Farms — thereby providing Hezbollah with a political victory, and enhancing the jihadist momentum within the Muslim world. One way or another, Hezbollah will be back on the border, and Israel will have to fight again.

Most Israelis perceive this war as existential. Even left-leaning journalists have compared it to the desperate battles of the 1948 War of Independence and to the weeks before the 1967 Six Day War, when Arab leaders threatened to drive the Jews into the sea.

The existential threat isn’t imminent, of course. But an Israeli defeat could trigger a process that would unravel our long-term prospects for surviving in the Middle East. As one friend put it to me: “If we lose, it’s the beginning of the end.” And in recent days I’ve heard variations of that comment from Israelis across the political spectrum.

Those anxieties begin with the nature of Israel’s jihadist enemy. What connects Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas is the theology of genocide — which sees the Jews as a satanic people and the destruction of the Jewish state as a divine imperative. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah once remarked that he doesn’t mind Jews immigrating to Israel, because gathering them in one place will make it that much easier to destroy them. And Hezbollah’s patron, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has called for Israel’s destruction so often that those genocidal pronouncements barely make news anymore — one more anti-Israel outrage that has been transformed from the inconceivable to the mundane. If Iran goes nuclear, Israel’s own nuclear force may not be much of a deterrence against apocalyptic leaders who apparently believe that the destruction of Israel will trigger the arrival of the Mahdi, the Shiite messiah. A nuclear Iran would be the ultimate suicide bomber.

For Israelis, this war is about restoring deterrence against the theologians of genocide. After Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, Nasrallah declared Israel a “spider web” — which seems from a distance durable but disintegrates with a single swipe. A Hezbollah victory, or even the perception of victory within the Arab world, will encourage terror attacks against our borders. And large parts of Israel’s periphery — especially the north and the southern area that borders Gaza — will become uninhabitable.

Finally, an inability to stop the most successful aggression against the Israeli home front since 1948 will result in widespread despair. Many Israelis, especially educated young people with options elsewhere, will understandably conclude that there is no hope for a normal life in a country that is an anomaly in the Middle East and that has lost the ability and perhaps the will to defend itself. The result will be widespread emigration. I know of one American-based high tech company with a branch in northern Israel that is arranging for its Israeli “brains,” as the president refers them, to be moved with their families to the northeastern United States. Will the “brains” want to return to the Galilee if Hezbollah hasn’t been uprooted from southern Lebanon?

Many Russian immigrants, who came here to escape a failed Soviet society, could conclude they made a mistake and that Israel is incapable of surviving in the long-term in the Middle East. One satirical TV skit showed an Israeli loudly proclaiming that there is no safer place for the Jews than “here” — which Israelis once said confidently about the Jewish state — but when the camera lens widens, we see he is seen speaking from London.

In a January 1996 speech in Stockholm before foreign ministers of the Arab League, Yasir Arafat laid out his vision of the long-term unraveling of the Jewish state: Extract territorial concessions from Israel, but without ending terror. When Israelis realize that not even a peace process will bring them security, then “a million rich Jews,” as Arafat put it, evidently meaning Israel’s middle class, will emigrate. Gradually, an impoverished Israel will lose its edge over the Arab world and collapse.

Hezbollah has taken us one step closer to realizing Arafat’s scenario.

Israelis see the war as a test case for our right to defend ourselves against terrorists. If the international community turns against Israel now, it will mean that we have no right to resist terrorists who hide behind their civilian population in order to attack ours.

This war is being fought on two fronts — Gaza as well as Lebanon. Those happen to be the two fronts from which Israel has unilaterally withdrawn to the international border. A recent “Dry Bones” cartoon by Yaakov Kirschen showed two Israelis discussing the war in Lebanon and in Gaza. “And the West Bank?” one asks. “Still quiet,” replies his friend. “We haven’t pulled back to the 1967 border there yet.”

Yossi Klien Halevi

Yossi Klein Halevi, the author of "At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land," is a senior fellow at The Shalem Center, an academic research institute in Jerusalem, and a correspondent for The New Republic.