August 20, 2019

Do Israelis support an attack on Iran?

Not long ago, I wrote an analysis of polls that were trying to answer a simple question: Do Israelis support an attack on Iran?

Reading between the lines, it seems Israelis must hold one of three views. Maybe they don’t really believe Netanyahu is serious about striking Iran. Maybe they trust him to eventually get the United States to back an Israeli strike. Or maybe their stated preference for striking Iran with U.S. backing does not actually undermine their willingness, ultimately, to support a solo attack. Let this possibility be a red flag to the pundits (herehere and here) who rushed to claim that the recent polls proved Israelis don’t stand by Netanyahu on the Iran question.

But since writing this analysis, new polls have been released, from which one can learn a bit more about the way Israelis feel about this question. A poll for Channel 10 news

found that 56% of Israelis oppose an attack on Iran – but a poll conducted for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

supposedly gives the exact opposite view:

Two-thirds of Israelis (65%) think the price Israel would have to pay for living under the shadow of the Iranian nuclear bomb is higher than the price it would pay for attacking Iran’s nuclear capability; 60% agree that the only way to stop Iran’s nuclear program is by a military attack; 66% believe in the IDF’s ability to damage Iran’s nuclear program substantially; 63% believe that the price the Israeli home front will pay if the United States attacks Iran is similar to the price it will pay if Israel does so; A 60% majority agree with the statement that the only way to stop Iran’s nuclearization is by a military attack.

Look at this table and see what recent polls asked Israelis, and how Israelis responded:




Only with US


Saban Center (Feb 2012)

There has been increased talk of a military strike by Israel against Iran’s nuclear facilities, even though the United States, the UK and Germany have advised against it. What do you think Israel should do?




Haaretz (March 2012)

Should Israel attack Iran without the United States



Channel 2 news (Feb 2012)

Should Israel attack Iran alone?


Channel 10 news (Feb 2012)

Should Israel attack Iran?



JCPA (March 2012)

Do you agree that the price Israel would have to pay for living under the shadow of the Iranian nuclear bomb is higher than the price it would pay for attacking Iran’s nuclear capability?



Knesset Channel (March 2012)

Should Israel attack if diplomacy fails?



Confused by the numbers? You are no more confused than most Israelis. The question of Iran is a complicated one, and expecting Israelis to have a simple yes/no answer could be problematic. In other words, the problem is not with the respondents but rather with the pollsters. But several things do stand out as one carefully examines the table and the polls:


Israelis would very much like the US to take part in a war against Iran. In all polls in which such an option is presented to respondents, the number of Israelis supporting a do-it-yourself attack significantly diminishes. In choosing the middle option – yes to an attack, but only with US participation or support – Israelis react much like Americans do under similar circumstances. As I showed a while ago, American polls concerning Iran follow two possible patterns: When presented with a two-option question (attack, do not attack) Americans tend to be on the hawkish side, and many of them – at times a majority – support attacking Iran. But when a third option such as “diplomacy” or “sanctions” is available to respondents, they tend to go for this middle-of-the-road choice. In both cases, I believe that such ambivalence reflects the instinctive understanding that war with Iran should not be desired, as well as the natural tendency of respondents to look for better measures to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons.


There’s a clear distinction between the straightforward question that forces Israelis into specifically supporting an attack (Israelis seem reluctant to do such thing at this point), and the question presented by JCPA, according to which Israelis believe a strike would be preferable to accepting a nuclearized Iran. However, reconciling such seemingly contradictory notions is not complicated: Israelis do accept the principle claims behind Netanyahu’s rush to halt the Iranian nuclear program. Much as President Obama himself did a couple of years ago, Israelis accept the notion that “us launching some missile strikes into Iran is not the optimal position for us to be in. On the other hand, having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse.” So I guess my instinct would be to err on the side of not having those weapons in the possession of the ruling clerics of Iran.

Yet moving from accepting the principle of the need for an attack to accepting the reality of looming military action is not easy. It hasn’t yet happened for Obama – no matter what he said back in 2004 – and Israelis also have hard time accepting the possibility that we’re really at the end of the line for any other option to be viable.