Israeli Public Supports Middle East Nuclear Free Zone
December 1, 2011
A new poll of Israeli Jews finds that 64% favor establishing a nuclear free zone in the Middle East, even when it was spelled out that this would mean that Israel as well as Iran would give up the option of having nuclear weapons.
Pressure has grown for such a nuclear free zone in response to the potential for Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, possibly leading to a regional arms race. Next year the United Nations will sponsor a conference devoted to trying to get the possibility of a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone back into play, but the Israeli government continues to resist the idea.
The logic of the Israeli Jewish public is clear. Less than half (43%) say they support an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Recently, even leading voices within Israel’s defense community have said that such a strike would merely slow, but not stop Iran and that Israeli cities would be vulnerable to retaliation.
At the same time the Israeli public is far from sanguine about Iran’s potential for acquiring nuclear weapons. An overwhelming 90% say that it is likely that Iran will eventually acquire nuclear weapons.
Asked which would be better–for both Israel and Iran to have nuclear weapons, or for neither to have nuclear weapons–a robust 65% say that it would be better for neither to have them. Only 19% say it would be better for both to have them.
The poll of 510 Israeli Jews is a joint project of the Program on International Policy Attitudes and the Anwar Sadat Chair at the University of Maryland, and was fielded by the Dahaf Institute in Israel. Interviews were conducted by telephone November 10-16. The margin of error is +/-4.3%.
The results were released in conjunction with the start of the Saban Forum on US-Israeli Relations at the Brookings Institution.
Highly significant to negotiations with Iran, Israeli Jews not only expressed support for the long term goal of eliminating nuclear weapons from the region but also for an interim step of making their nuclear facilities transparent together with Iran.
Asked about having all countries in the region, including Israel as well as Iran, “agree to have a system of full international inspections of all facilities where nuclear components could be built or maintained,” 60% favored it.
“If Israel and Iran were to indicate a readiness to join a process toward turning the Middle East nuclear free zone this would be a major game changer in negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program,” comments Steven Kull director of PIPA.
“I find the findings surprising given the long held assumption that the Israeli public is not prepared to even discuss the nuclear issue given their deep seated sense of insecurity,” adds Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development.