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If Israeli voters get their way, no attack on Iran without US help

So says a new poll.

By Staff writer / March 1, 2012

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a conference in Tel Aviv, Tuesday, Feb. 28. Netanyahu sets off for a critical US visit next week, for direct meetings with President Obama and a speech at the upcoming AIPAC conference.

Oded Balilty/AP

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The Israeli public is champing at the bit for air strikes against Iran's nuclear program right? Wrong.

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A new poll run by the University of Maryland's Sadat Chair for Peace and Development Shibley Telhami was released as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gets ready to decamp to Washington next week, for direct meetings with President Obama and a speech at the upcoming AIPAC conference.

The annual meeting of AIPAC, a pro-Israel advocacy group with political views aligned with Mr. Netanyahu's Likud, is expected to be a platform for warnings of the Iranian threat, calls for unbreakable solidarity between the US and Israel, and demands that the US provide assistance to the Jewish state if it decides to attack the Islamic republic. Netanyahu has promised to make Iran the "center" of his talks with Obama.

That last bit is understandable, since Israel doesn't have the ability to decisively destroy Iran's hardened and widely dispersed nuclear assets from the air. But the notion of an Israel marching inevitably closer to war with Iran is undercut by the Maryland poll, conducted between Feb. 22-26.

Given three options, 43 percent of Israeli Jews said their country should strike Iran "only if Israel gains at least American support" and 32 percent were opposed to a strike in any circumstances. Some 22 percent supported a strike "even without the support of the US."

As for the US being drawn into the war if Israel acted alone, 28 percent expect the US would join the war on Israel's behalf, 37 percent expect the US would support Israel diplomatically but not militarily and 16 percent expect the US would "punish Israel by reducing its current support." Some 74 percent of Israeli Jews and 68 percent of all citizens expect that Hezbollah, the Lebanon based Shiite militia and political party, would retaliate along with Iran in the event of an Israeli attack.

Interestingly, Israeli Jews appear to have a slight preference for Barack Obama over the current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney. Some 32 percent of Israeli Jews prefer Obama over Romney, while 29 percent prefer the Republican. Among all Israelis, both candidates have 29 percent support – which indicates a more negative view of Obama among Israel's 20 percent Arab minority than among Israeli Jews.

The Guardian reports, citing unnamed sources, that Israel "is pressing Barack Obama for an explicit threat of military action against Iran if sanctions fail and Tehran's nuclear programme advances beyond specified 'red lines,'" and that "the Israeli prime minister wants Obama to state unequivocally that Washington is prepared to use force if Iran's nuclear programme advances."

What the polling data from Israel show is that in the unlikely event Netanyahu gets what he wants from Obama, then the odds of an attack on Iran, and possibly a new war in the Middle East, will go up.

Follow Dan Murphy on Twitter.

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