Bloomberg News

Three of Four American Oppose Israeli Strike on Iran

March 13, 2012

An Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear program is opposed by three out of four Americans, according to a poll by the University of Maryland and the Program on International Policy Attitudes.

The findings reflect Americans’ preference for a negotiated resolution and doubts that an Israeli strike would thwart any Iranian ambitions for nuclear weapons, according to the survey released today.

“One of the reasons Americans are so cool toward the idea of Israel attacking Iran’s nuclear program is that most believe that it is not likely to produce much benefit,” said Steven Kull, director of Washington-based PIPA.

Seven in 10 Americans favor the U.S. and other major powers pursuing negotiations with Iran to resolve concerns over its disputed nuclear program, according to the poll. That position is taken by 58 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of independents and 79 percent of Democrats.

Last week, during a visit to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Barack Obama said there is a “window of opportunity” for diplomacy and sanctions to compel Iran to give up any effort to develop nuclear weapons. Netanyahu told U.S. lawmakers that the talks and economic pressure won’t work.

Fewer than one in five Americans in the poll said a military strike would delay Iran’s abilities to develop a nuclear weapon for more than five years, he noted.

Israeli Views

“Interestingly, this result is barely different from the view of Israelis who were asked the same question in a February poll I conducted,” said Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a policy institute in Washington.

Telhami’s poll of Israeli public opinion, done in cooperation with the Dahaf Institute in Israel and released Feb. 29, found just 22 percent of Israelis thought a military strike would delay Iran’s program by more than five years.

Only 19 percent of Israelis said their nation should strike Iran’s nuclear program even if military action does not have the support of the U.S., according to the poll.

Israeli leaders warn that if they wait too long for diplomacy to work, they may lose the ability to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability. “We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer,” Netanyahu told the American Israel Political Action Committee in Washington on March 5.

Economic Sanctions

Obama is under pressure in an election year to forestall military action while blunting attacks from Republicans who accuse him of providing inadequate support to Israel.

The U.S. and Europe have tightened economic sanctions on Iran in an effort to force it to end any weapons-related nuclear work. The U.S. and its allies have warned of a possible nuclear arms race in the Persian Gulf region that holds more than half the world’s oil reserves. Iran is the No. 2 oil producer, after Saudi Arabia, in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said last week that world powers are ready to resume talks with Iran.

If Israel strikes and Iran does not retaliate against U.S. targets, only 25 percent of Americans favor giving U.S. military support to Israel, according to today’s University of Maryland/PIPA poll. Still, 54 percent of Americans said if Israel attacks Iran, they expect the U.S. would provide at least diplomatic support to Israel, while 32 percent predicted the U.S. would get involved militarily.

UN Route Preferred

The new poll showed three-quarters of Americans want the U.S. to work through the United Nations Security Council rather than acting alone to address the Iranian nuclear threat.

A large majority said an Israeli strike would lead to months or even years of armed conflict. Fewer than half of Americans and Israelis surveyed in the two polls thought a strike would weaken the Iranian government.

Fifty-eight percent of Americans believe Iran has decided to produce nuclear weapons and is actively working to do so. Only 30 percent agree with the U.S. intelligence services’ assessment that Iran is seeking a capability to build weapons, though it has not taken a decision to produce them, according to today’s poll.

The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points, was conducted between March 3-7 by Knowledge Networks of Menlo Park, California, a unit of GfK SE (GFK), a German market research company.

To contact the reporter on this story: Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in Washington at ilakshmanan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net


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