Israeli Support Wanes for Iran Strike

December 3, 2012

            Support for an Israeli strike on Iran has waned over the last year, according to a new study. Only one in five Israelis polled support a unilateral strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Half of the respondents said they believed that Iran will eventually acquire nuclear weapons, while just as many said Iran is somewhat likely or unlikely to acquire a bomb. Israelis were also evenly divided over a diplomatic deal that would allow Iran to maintain nuclear energy for electricity under U.N. supervision—with 46 percent approving and 47 percent not supporting such a deal.

            The following are excerpts from the report by the Brookings Institution, the University of Maryland and the Program on International Policy Studies, with a link to the full text at the bottom. 

Iran’s Nuclear Program
            Concerns about Iran appear to have moderated a bit. While a majority of Israelis thinks it is very likely that Iran will develop nuclear weapons, among Israeli Jews this is down 8 points over the last year. Opposition to a military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities has risen modestly, and only one in five Israelis now favor attacking without U.S. support. Only one in four believe that an attack would delay Iran’s ability for more than five years.
            A substantial majority of Israelis favor a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone that would include Israel, though among Israeli Jews this is down a bit from a year ago. Israelis are divided on a possible U.N. deal whereby Iran would be allowed to enrich uranium at low levels provided that it allows intrusive inspections to ensure that it is not developing nuclear weapons.
            Israelis continue to show a pessimistic view in regard to the likelihood that Iran will develop nuclear weapons. Asked “How likely do you think it is that Iran will eventually develop nuclear weapons?” 51% of Israelis called it very likely, with another 36% calling it somewhat likely (not very likely, 7%; not at all likely, 3%).
            However there has been an eight point drop among Israeli Jews holding this pessimistic view over the last year, with the number saying it is very likely dropping from 62% in 2011 to 54 percent today. Reminded that “there is talk of a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities” and asked whether they would support or oppose it, half of Israelis overall (50%) oppose such an attack while 38% support it.
Among Israeli Jews opposition has risen from 41% a year ago to 46% today, with 41% now supporting it. But when asked explicitly in another question about whether to proceed with an attack unilaterally, only with U.S. support, or not at all, only one in five Israelis favor proceeding without U.S. support. Among Israeli Jews, those ready to proceed without U.S. support has dropped from 22% a year ago to 18% now.
            Given the importance to Israelis of not acting alone, it is interesting to note Israelis’ expectations of how the United States would react if Israel did go ahead with a strike on Iranian facilities. Only one in four Israelis (24%) think the United States “would join the war on Israel’s behalf.” Almost half (46%) think the United States “would support Israel diplomatically, but not provide military assistance.” Another quarter thought the United States would either stay neutral (14%) or “would punish Israel by withdrawing its current support” (11%). Among Israeli Jews, it should be noted that those expecting the United States would join Israel in fighting have dropped from 28 to 21% over the last year.
            Only one in four Israelis believe that a military attack would delay Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons by more than five years [see chart].
            But there has been some increase among Israeli Jews in the belief that it would have some effect. The number of Israelis who think a strike would create a one-to-two year delay in Iran’s capabilities has risen from 9 to 19%; those who would expect a three-to-five year delay have also risen slightly, from 22% to 26%. However, those who would expect a delay longer than five years were stable at 23%. Another fifth thought a strike would either have no effect (8%, down from 19%) or would accelerate Iran’s program (11%, unchanged).
Possible Agreement with Iran
            Israelis are divided on a possible U.N. deal whereby Iran would be allowed to enrich uranium at low levels, provided that it allows intrusive inspections to ensure that it is not developing nuclear weapons. Respondents were reminded that “there is some talk about possible negotiations between Iran and the United States about Iran’s nuclear program” and asked to consider the following proposal:
If Iran were to allow U.N. inspectors permanent and full access throughout Iran, to make sure it is not developing nuclear weapons, do you think Iran should or should not be allowed to produce low level nuclear fuel that could only be used for producing electricity? Forty-six percent of Israelis said they would approve such a deal, while 47 percent said they would not.
Click here for the full text.