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Israelis shrug at Netanyahu's urgent warnings on Iran (+video)

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has relentlessly warned that Iran poses an imminent nuclear threat, but most Israelis are sanguine, believing it won't happen or that Israel can handle it.

By Staff writer / September 25, 2012

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (l.) and military advisor Maj. Gen. Yochanan Locker, arrive for the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, Sept. 23.

Ariel Schalit/AP

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Jerusalem

Even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presses the United States for “red lines” on Iran’s nuclear development and Iran ramps up its rhetoric, Israelis don’t seem to be expecting a war with Iran anytime soon – and are not frantically preparing for one. 

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Yes, Iran is a dangerous regime, most say. But even as some get new gas masks and repair their bomb shelters, more than half say they think Mr. Netanyahu's statements about launching an Israeli strike on Iran are a bluff intended to pressure the US to do the job instead

And even if Netanyahu were serious about going it alone, Israelis express a high degree of confidence in Israel’s ability to defend itself. 

“We have been following the Iran issue for quite a long time and … [Israelis] actually seem to be pretty relaxed about it; and I suppose that, following their answers, this is because they don’t really think it’s going to happen,” says public opinion expert Tamar Hermann, who co-edits a monthly poll known as the Peace Index. “They see it as a chess game by which Netanyahu is trying to achieve certain advantages in the international arena.”

There are other theories about why Israelis seem relatively calm about the Iran threat: They’ve long since accepted that they live in a dangerous neighborhood; they have confidence in the state’s ability to defend itself and protect its civilians; they don’t think Iran will strike anyway; and, for the more religious, they are looking to the same God that delivered their people from enemies who sought their destruction in the past, from Goliath to Haman.

“First of all, I trust God. Secondly, we have very clever people, very good intelligence,” and a strong military, says Moshe Guy, a Tel Aviv resident visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. “I’m not afraid – I’m much more afraid about the conflict between Jews in Israel – between religious and nonreligious.… I see that Judaism is moving toward [being] fanatic, and fanatic is very bad.”

Indeed, other concerns seem to be more top of mind for Israelis, including the high cost of living, rising social tensions, and even a possible earthquake. 

US support still trumps all

Earlier this year, a survey conducted by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University found that only 18 percent of Israelis believed that Iran would attack Israel with nuclear weapons. Even if Iran were to launch a nuclear attack, almost 2 in 3 Israelis believe that Israel can handle such a strike, according to the survey, which will be published in December.

But Israelis were more confident in their country's ability to deal with all but one of the other threats posed by the survey  – including war with Arab countries, sustained terrorism, and a chemical or biological weapons attack, according to INSS data shared with the Monitor.

The only thing Israelis are more worried about in terms of national security is a drop in US support of Israel.

“All the studies we’ve done over the past 25 years show that the Israeli public … puts great, great, great emphasis between Israel and US and views strong bonds … as a major factor in Israel’s national security,” says Yehuda Ben Meir, codirector of INSS’s National Security and Public Opinion Project. “Since it’s been made very clear that the US is more than strongly opposed to a unilateral Israeli independent attack at this time … [Israelis] don’t want it.”

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