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Just over half of Israelis say US approval not needed for strike on Iran

IDI survey finds Jews and right-wingers most supportive of going it alone, over 50% say Islamic Republic poses an existential danger

Fighter jets from the IAF's second F-35 squadron, the Lions of the South, fly over southern Israel, January 2020. (IDF spokesperson)
Fighter jets from the IAF's second F-35 squadron, the Lions of the South, fly over southern Israel, January 2020. (IDF spokesperson)

A slender majority of Israelis would support an attack on Iran, even if it were not backed by the United States, according to an Israel Democracy Institute poll published Wednesday.

Fifty-one percent of respondents said that they would support a unilateral strike, whereas 31% said they would not.

Senior Israeli officials have repeatedly threatened to go it alone to protect themselves against Iran, given what is thought to be reluctance in Washington to embark on a costly military engagement.

However, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has agreed to keeping Washington abreast of its actions regarding Iran, according to US and Israeli officials. Israel is also thought to need US support to acquire armaments likely needed to reach Iranian facilities buried deep underground, and would be reliant on Washington to shield it from blowback from such a  move.

World powers are engaged in talks with Iran in order to coax it to return to the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and while US President Joe Biden maintains that all options are on the table if those negotiations fail, he has yet to verbalize that those options include a military strike.

According to the survey, 54% of Israelis believe Iran poses an existential threat. Some 25% of respondents view Iran as a “medium danger” while 13% deem the Islamic Republic to only pose a “small danger.”

Answers to both questions varied based on whether respondents were Jews or Arabs.

This November 4, 2020, satellite photo by Maxar Technologies shows Iran’s Fordo nuclear site (Maxar Technologies via AP)

While a large majority — 62% — of Jewish Israelis believe that Iran constitutes an existential danger, only a minority — 19% — of Arab Israelis agreed with that assessment. Fifty-eight percent of Jewish Israelis said that Israel does not need Washington’s approval for an attack, whereas only 18% of Arab Israelis said the same.

Political ideology also plays a role, according to the IDI poll. Among self-identifying right-wing respondents, two-thirds agreed that Israel should attack Iran even without US agreement. Among center-left respondents, such support dropped to 50%, while on the left, only 37.5% of respondents supported an Israeli strike without US approval.

The IDI survey was conducted online and by telephone among 614 Jewish respondents and 150 Arabs between November 29 and December 1. The margin of error was 3.59% at a confidence level of 95%.

In October, The Times of Israel learned that the Israel Air Force will begin practicing for a strike on Iran’s nuclear program in 2022, having set aside funding and updated its training schedule for the mission.

In light of growing uncertainty regarding a return by Iran to the 2015 nuclear deal, the IDF in recent months has ramped up its efforts to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear facilities.

Following the signing of the JCPOA in 2015, Israel put the issue of a military strike on the Iranian nuclear program on the back burner, allowing the IDF to invest its resources into other areas. But following the US abrogation of the nuclear deal in 2018 and Iran’s subsequent violations of the agreement since then — which picked up considerably ahead of and during the stalled talks — the matter has taken on renewed importance to Israel, which sees an Iranian nuclear bomb as a near existential threat.

In the beginning of this year, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi announced that he had instructed the military to begin drawing up fresh attack plans, and last week, the government reportedly allocated billions of shekels toward making those plans viable.

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Bennett declared that “Iran’s nuclear program has hit a watershed moment, and so has our tolerance. Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning… We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report

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