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Poll: Israeli Jews oppose a unilateral strike on Iran

Most Israelis do not back the Prime Minister and Defense Minister’s call for a pre-emptive strike on Iran, but most won’t do much to oppose it either. Here are some numbers and thoughts on why. 

Just one-quarter of the Jewish public (27 percent) in Israel supports a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran, according to a new Peace Index survey from August 7-8, focused mainly on Iran. Fully 61 percent of the 516 Jewish respondents are against such a strike, with over one-quarter strongly opposed – even a majority on the right is opposed (51 percent).

If Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak truly hope to rally the public for war, they are not succeeding. Barely one-third (33 percent) expect them to actually carry out attack, while 56 percent do not. Fifty-seven percent are convinced that the duo is bluffing and posturing.

Worse still for Netanyahu and Barak, a strong majority of the Jewish public doesn’t even trust them to make the decision: the survey, run by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, shows that barely over one-quarter (28 percent) are convinced by Barak’s message that Israel must act “before Iran attains nuclear capability.” When given a choice, 57 percent chose instead to believe the senior security echelons, who oppose an attack; even the self-identified right is split dead even on which figures to trust.

Perhaps Netanyahu’s single greatest failure on this issue is that the Israeli public rejects his cherished baby, the existential threat. Poor Netanyahu: For three years, he has been hammering away at the theme that Iran equals the holocaust of the Jewish people. He has recited this at every opportunity, almost to the exclusion of anything else. He is nothing if not “on message.”

But the Israeli public merely displays resilience:

When presented with the proposition that Iran’s nuclear program cannot be stopped, and Israel must formulate its defense strategy on the assumption that it is no longer the only nuclear power in the region – in other words, reconciling itself to a nuclear Iran – an absolute majority of 60 percent agreed; only 35 percent disagreed.

To be sure, Israeli Jews would be far happier if Iran’s program would be stopped, and do not trust Western diplomatic efforts; 70 percent feel that Israel cannot rely on US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s promise that Iran will not have nuclear weapons. Three-quarters believe that a strike coordinated with the U.S. has a high chance of seriously delaying the Iranian nuclear program.

Given how skeptical the Jewish public is about the effectiveness of international diplomatic efforts, the lack of support for Netanyahu and Barak’s approach is, well, striking.

Actually it’s amazing is that despite the near-obsession of Netanyahu, Barak and the press, there seems to have been no movement of public opinion at all in recent months about Iran. Surveys I gathered this spring showed practically identical numbers. This is from April:

…The public…diverge[s] sharply from the leadership’s policy: Survey after survey, as I wrote in March, showed that only a minority – somewhere between 19 percent and 31 percent – favors a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran. The majority – at least half (here’s a similar survey in Hebrew), and up to nearly two-thirds (Hebrew) – is against a unilateral attack.

Here are my educated guesses about why such majorities of the Jewish interviewees aren’t excited about an attack.

  • It won’t work: A majority of 55 percent said there were very low or moderately low chances that a strike will significantly delay the nuclear program; just 36 percent gave somewhat high or high chances.
  • It’s not Osirak: It would be natural to compare the Iran debate to Israel’s strike on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981. The general mantra in Israel is that our crack defense establishment does what’s right even (and sometimes especially) when it’s not politically correct, the world condemns us, and everyone’s secretly happy in the end. But we don’t hear much about Osirak lately. That’s because there’s a big difference: Iraq did not go to war with Israel following the strike and there were not 500 or even 300 Israeli casualties, in return for moderate-to-low chances of a mere delay in nuclear armament. 
  • It’s the economy, tembel (stupid): In focus groups about various political issues I ran a few weeks ago, Iran hardly came up. People did talk at great length about daily economic hardships, like the cost of day care for the kids: “It’s crazy, it’s like another salary. For me, that’s everything at this point. Sure, there’s the security thing and the Iranian threat, but I get up and go to work and that’s what bothers me,” said one participant.  The way our brave leaders quake at the thought of trimming the defense budget, preferring instead to gouge the middle class, is wearing thin.

That leaves the eternal paradox: if people don’t support the policy, why don’t they actively oppose it? Despite noble attempts to hold Facebook-driven anti-war demonstrations all week, just a handful attended.

Here’s my opinion about why: First, the security mystique reigns supreme. Although people don’t like the idea of a strike, I hear many saying “there are things we don’t know” – as they nod their heads and accept the mysterium tremendum. (Personally, I think that if the government expects me to rally round a war it starts, I deserve to know why that war is right for the country. A possibility of a 1-2 year delay is not sufficient. I want a list of concrete benefits – a long list.)

Second, the Peace Index shows that Israelis don’t place much faith in the other (international, diplomatic) options.

Third, the social protests proved to many that the government does not listen to people. So why bother? That’s what some friends wrote on Facebook this week. And that’s exactly what this government likes to hear.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Prometheus

      Interesting, how many Israeli Jews oppose a joint strike on Iran?
      1%? 5%?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Rachel in Los Angeles

      Many are afraid because they know Obama does NOT have Israel’s back. Who wants to go it alone?? But they MUST strike. President Romney WILL have Israel’s back.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Jack

      Positive, at the same time it fluctuates, either way, the enormous propaganda effort leveled at Iran by warmonger politicians in Israel have pretty much failed, otherwise we would have seen much greater support for war by the citizens.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Prometheus

      “the enormous propaganda effort leveled at Iran by warmonger politicians in Israel have pretty much failed, otherwise we would have seen much greater support for war by the citizens.”
      .
      100% crystal clear nonsense.

      Reply to Comment
    5. What I don’t understand yet is why new party formation is so difficult in Israel. The Tea Party in the US (no fan here) has changed the Republican Party, neigh taken over the Party in some ways. Why is there no evidence that last year’s social protests have not engendered some sort of bottom up party effort, beyond show protests, which seem to have failed this season in any case?
      .
      If this issue does not shift the electorate from Bibi I know not what can. But again, there is something about the organizational potential of Israelis I do not understand.
      .
      If the US later attacks Iran it will not want Israel involved, to minimize Iran’s retalitory theater. Iran may well attack Israel then in any case, but there would be a way out if wanted.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Prometheus

      Greg,
      Maybe you study Hebrew and move in Israel for a year or two – to get an idea.
      .
      There is nothing more simple than to set-up a political party in Israel.
      .
      Social protests haven’t engendered anything because these protests are lead by uneducated people with stupid ideas.
      .
      Why would an attempt by Bibi to do what is the best for the state should shift the electorate off?
      .
      If if if…
      It is not up to USA or any other country to decide when and how the Jews should defend themselves.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Nur Fahmi

      why Israel want to attack Iran ?
      Nuclear program is not just for Israel, USA, and the other Westerner, BUT every country have a same Right to study and to have nuclear, why the Christian and Jewish want to monopulate it ?
      It’s Not DEMOCRATION

      Reply to Comment
    8. Prometheus

      Nur,
      Because Iran has no right do develop and/or posses nuclear weapons.
      What’s so difficult to understand?

      Reply to Comment
    9. Jack

      Prometheus,
      There is no ban on possessing nuclear weapons outside of the NPT. So any party of the NPT could step out of the NPT and build nuclear weapons if they want. However Israel have been condemned and urged to sign the NPT after their war of aggresion attack on Iraq reactor in 1981. They have rejected this UNSC resolution since, instead they repeated it in 2007 (Syria) and threat to do it on Iran. Thus, we have clearly, we have framed the threat to peace.

      Reply to Comment
    10. William Burns

      So, Prometheus, the Jews have an absolute right to defend themselves as they see fit, and the Persians don’t? I can see why the Persians aren’t going along with this.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Prometheus

      Jack,
      Your comment is irrelevant as usual. Iran is still a signatory of NPT, therefore it has no right for nuclear weapons.
      .
      Damn, Jack, why even the simplest facts are so difficult for you to comprehend?
      .
      Israel have not signed NPT, along with India and Pakistan, which means that these 3 countries are free to play with their nukes.
      .
      Iran, Syria and Iraq have signed the aforementioned treaty, which means that they have no right to develop/possess nuclear weapons.
      From the international point of view nuclear facilities which were built in violation of the NPT are illegal and should be dealt with accordingly.
      .
      William,
      Your comment is about as irrelevant as previous posters.
      Iran have signed the paper stating they THEY WILL NOT TRY TO GET NUCLEAR WEAPONS.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Jack

      Promtheus,
      You should read what people actually tell you here you are very confused. I saw that you got another warning on a channel here. Be sincere and mature when debating, ok?
      Iran could announce it will quit NPT and start building, thats fully legal.
      As I said its not legal to possess them, however using them is another side, like I told you world community have after the aggression against Iraq urged Israel to join the NPT.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Refusenik23

      I hope Iran gets nuclear weapons – I think the mutually assured destruction should probably be a sensible placeholder that goes a long way to ensuring nobody attacks anybody.

      Only by Iran arming itself enough to defend itself from our government’s warmongering can we have any kind of peace.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Jack

      Maor,
      Not sure what your point is? Does Iran dislike the regime? Yes. Likewise Iran disliked South African apartheid regime and boycotted it. US disliked the iraqi Saddam regime, US dislike Cuba etc. Does Israel like the iranian regime? No.
      I mean whats your argument? Surely you dont propose that as a casus belli.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Sol

      Bibi will attack.

      The power of Sheldon Adelson, the message of his late-father, his fear of the great Avigdor Lieberman, and his disdain for Obama will embolden Bibi to attack before the U.S. elections.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Maor

      Jack,
      “Does Iran dislike the regime”? NO Jack, Iran doesn’t dislike “the regime”, it dislikes the idea that the Jews have any collective rights for sovereignty in their (very small) homeland. It dislikes Jewish politics, Jewish nationality, and the idea of a Jewish people. It engages and obsessively disseminates “Zionist conspiracy” nonsense for several decades, demonizing the Jewish people, diminishing their suffering, scorning their history, calling for the destruction of their country, and funding and arming the strongest terror organizations in the world to fight that country. So definitely no, Iran doesn’t “dislike the regime”.

      The suggestion that Iran is doing all that because it is worried about human rights issues in Israel and Israel’s relations with the Palestinians is so ridiculous that only a very few people in the Western world would dare to accept. Iran is one of the worst violators of human rights in the world. Its people live in a ruthless fanatic dictatorship without basic civil rights, and the Iranian regime is passionately cooperative with ALL other despicable dictatorships out there with the worst human rights record. So Iran is bothered by Israel’s human rights record? A liberal democracy that is doing more to safeguard the lives of civilians among its enemies than any other nation in history?

      Reply to Comment
    17. Prometheus

      Jack,
      You comment is absolutely irrelevant.
      .
      Refusenik,
      “I think the mutually assured destruction should probably be a sensible placeholder that goes a long way to ensuring nobody attacks anybody.”
      .
      Only someone inexperienced and uneducated could think of such nonsense.
      You see, unlike USA and USSR, who had to rely on missiles and planes to deliver nuclear charges, Iran could send a nuke to Israel by a small boat, thus making the attack untraceable.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Jack

      Maor,
      And thats exactly why they call it the regime. The assad regime, zionist regime, saddam regime etc. Its nothing weird about it as I said Israel dislike the iranian regime and threat to bomb it, if I am going to use your rhetoric I am going to say that Oh Israel dislikes the idea of shia muslims having a state. I mean its absurd and simply longer overdue. It lives thousands of jewish people in Iran and is respected as a religious and recogized group, there are synogogoues and other jewish centers in Iran.
      They have neither, compared to Israel, called for any destruction and surely you know who supported Baluch terror group carrying out terror in Iran, just among one of many examples. My point is we should not use double standards.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Maor

      Jack,
      I just can’t help myself, you’re doing a ridiculous manipulation on the anti-Zionist positions of Iran. When one is against the Assad Regime in Syria, one does not negate the right of the Syrian people for sovereignty in their land and for cultural and national rights – on the contrary, the argument against Assad is that he does not represent the will of the people of Syria!

      Do you have a single evidence that Israel “dislikes the idea of Shia Muslims having a state” or that Israel has any problem with Iranian sovereignty, an Iranian nation-state?

      The fact that Iran’s Jewish community is relatively free to practice the Jewish religion has nothing to do with the obsession of the Iranian leadership with the destruction of the Jewish state and their denial of the national rights of the Jewish people.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Jack

      Maor,
      The accusation is that the regime, not the people, are illegitimate due the result that palestinians were pushed out of their state and have since then caused alot of trouble for the region. Likewise you dont accuse a palestinian wanting to return to their home for being a antisemtite still its the same thing. Interestingly being against a palestinian state, or palestinian rights to the 1967-land is not being called anti-arab, islamohphobic – frankly that would be ridiculous – I mean if someone doesnt recognize palestinians right to a state thats fine and is not racist likewise is not racist for those that are against a jewish state, you see we should not use double standards.
      -
      Yes, according to israeli politicians iranians cant be trusted due their religious belief, not to mention their constant war threats and wish to see the demise of the regime. Its not really a shia problem, when sunni Hamas won in Gaza, it was the same accusations.
      -
      They havent called for any active destruction, why do you keep repeating this. It has every thing to do with it, why would they accept jews if they are so horrendusly antisemite? It doesnt add up.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Prometheus

      Jack, Jack.
      You are so full of it…
      “I mean if someone doesnt recognize palestinians right to a state thats fine and is not racist likewise is not racist for those that are against a jewish state, you see we should not use double standards.”
      .
      Palestinians have all rights to have a state, exactly as Jews do, and denying either of those is as racist as it could be.
      .
      “It has every thing to do with it, why would they accept jews if they are so horrendusly antisemite? It doesnt add up.”
      .
      It only does not add up because you lack education and knowledge.
      http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu/righit.html

      Reply to Comment
    22. When the Palestinians recognize Jewish history that The Jews have every right to be in Jerusalem, to pray at the Kottel (last remaining wall of the 2nd Temple destroyed by Rome in 70AD) and refrain from repeating the mantra by their Islamic Clerics that the whole of Israel and especially Jerusalem has absolutely nothing to do with Judaism.
      Abraham, Isaac, jacom and Moses were all Muslims. When they also recognize that almost 1,000,000 Jews from the Arab world were either kicked out or fled for their lives from the treatment which was meted out to them as a consequence of the re-birth of the jewish state in 1948. Over 50% of the total population of israel today including 20% of Arab Israeli citizens comprise of those Jews and their descendants who were made stateless centless refugees overnight from their Arab homeland. The Arabs are trying and it would seem quite successful in re-writing the history of the Middle-East. The Arabs and many liberal leftists in the west only recognize the plight of the Arab refugees of palestine, but in no way recognize the parallel plight of the Jewish refugees of the Arab world who outnumbered the Arab-refugees by almost two to one. My own family suffered at the hands of the Arabs, they murdered many members of our family before we managed to flee from our hell-hole of our Arab homeland.

      Reply to Comment
    23. sh

      @Greg – “But again, there is something about the organizational potential of Israelis I do not understand.”
      Too much pap over too long a period+smart-phones. It worked – at least for the left it did. We now blab reams, but do nothing. You’d have thought that with the legal and social dominoes of the past two years lying all over the place in disarray we’d have been able to cobble together at least a left coalition but no, not even any talk thereof. The current coalition has gone green in that it keeps recycling what we already had. Bibi, Barak, Peres, Dichter, Mofaz-no-Mofaz, revolving doors between Likud, Labor, Kadima. I think it’s known as fiddling while Rome burns. Most of the country doesn’t want to go to war, but equally, my sense is that most of the country expects us to.
      .
      By the way, Greg, I always love to read your comments, the angles from which you view things.

      Reply to Comment
    24. Maor

      Jack,
      Basically your opinion is “it’s fine to be a bigot and push for the destruction (not physical, ok, like it matters) of a country and to deny the rights of an entire nation and demonize and incite against them – it’s legitimate and there’s no problem with it”.
      Well it’s not legitimate, there is a problem with it, and the majority of the sane world seems to see it that way.

      “according to israeli politicians iranians cant be trusted” – really? Trusted with what? with their strong passion and obsession to eliminate Israel? I think that everyone trust them with that.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Jack

      Maor,
      I would respect if you dont put words into my mouth. I have showed in my earlier posts that the stance of the idea of being against a political regime is nothing new and is also obviously pushed by Israel itself.

      Reply to Comment
    26. Prometheus

      Jack,
      Being against a political regime is only possible for the citizens of the country in question.
      .
      When government (regime, call it what you please) of country A is against government of country B it is called an international (armed) conflict.
      .
      In your earlier post, btw, you have shown that you are a highest grade racist and bigot I’ve ever met in my life.
      .
      “I mean if someone doesnt recognize palestinians right to a state thats fine and is not racist likewise is not racist for those that are against a jewish state”

      Reply to Comment
    27. ALi Saleh Shamkhani

      Dahli
      Why dont you do a poll of Iranians to see how may support a unilateral strike on the zionist entity

      Reply to Comment
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