Shibley Telhami recently released the extraordinary results of a recent poll (see full results) of Israeli public opinion about its country’s nuclear program and Iran’s. The answers to the poll’s questions showed rather amazing level of pragmatism regarding Israeli attitudes on the subject:
1. Israelis were almost equally divided on the issue of whether Israel should attack Iran, 43% favored a strike and 41% opposed.
2. 68% believe Iran will eventually develop nuclear weapons. This statistic isn’t surprising. But given this number the results of the following questions are.
3. 65% believe it is better for neither Israel NOR Iran to have nuclear weapons.
4. 60% favor inspections of all nuclear facilities in the region (including Israel’s) in preparation for a nuclear free zone.
5. 63% would favor all nations in the region (including their own) renouncing nuclear weapons in the context of creating a nuclear free zone.
6. 64% favor the creation of a Mideast nuclear free zone.
A separate poll released by Haaretz indicates that nearly 60% of Israelis believe that an attack on Iran will lead to a regional war involving Hezbollah and Hamas.
Several years ago, I published a post here based on a poll of Israeli public opinion regarding Iran and the numbers were much less hopeful. As I recall, the vast number of respondents supported an Israeli strike on Iran, and agreed that Iran was an existential threat to Israel. Telhami’s numbers indicate that Meir Dagan’s campaign to make Israelis aware of the dangers of an Israeli strike have taken hold and had great effect. Though to be forthright, I also found this 2007 poll result saying Israelis at that time opposed Israel attacking Iran on its own by a wide majority. If both polls are accurate, it could indicate that support for an Israeli attack has actually risen since then.
Telhami’s poll also indicates just how out of sync the Israeli political leadership is with the body politic on this issue. Even before Israel attacks Iran, almost half the population thinks it would be a bad idea. In my experience, the leadership of a country that goes into a war with the citizens already divided on its efficacy is potentially in big trouble.
Most Israelis also disagree with much of the opacity of Israel’s current approach to its own nuclear weapons program. They favor a nuclear free zone, they favor allowing nuclear inspections (Israel has refused to join the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty which provides for such inspections), and they favor abolition of Israel’s arsenal in the context of mutual renunciation of such weapons by all their neighbors.
Israel’s nuclear program is a huge irritant in the overall scheme of Israeli-Arab relations. It is one of the reasons (though not the only one) Iran is pursuing a nuclear program (whether or not its pursuing a nuclear weapon is undetermined). It is one of the greatest hypocrisies of Israel’s own claim of “existential threat” post by that country for having the chutzpah to want what Israel has in such great numbers.