The nation of Israel has been edging toward a possible attack on Iran, pulling Israel’s closest ally the United States along with it, but a majority of Americans are opposed to Israel staging an attack on Iran, believing it would put the U.S. in bad position, according to a new poll conducted at the University of Maryland.
Fifty-five percent of Americans think an Israeli attack on Iran would put the U.S. in a poorer strategic position, with 32 percent saying the U.S. position would remain the same and 8 percent believing it would be improved, according to the poll by Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland.
If Israel struck Iran, 70 percent of poll respondents believe that Iran would retaliate by striking U.S. bases and 86 percent think the price of oil would “drastically increase.”
Of the respondents, 53 percent think the U.S. should take a neutral posture on an Israeli strike, 29 percent believe the U.S. should discourage it and just 12 percent would want the U.S. to encourage an Israeli strike.
“The bottom line, you can see it across Republican and Democrats, that middle category of neutral stance, actually holding for Democrats, Republicans and independents equally,” Telhami said.
Telhami’s survey questioned 737 Americans with a margin of error of +/-4.6.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went before the United Nations last month and said he believed Iran would have the capability to make a nuclear weapon by next spring or summer unless the Iranians are ordered to stop their progress before then. He also held up a prop—a drawing of an atomic bomb with a fuse. Netanyahu drew a red line through the level where Iran would have amassed enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, which he said would happen in the spring or summer of 2013.
“The relevant question is not when Iran will get the bomb,” he said. “It is at what stage can we stop Iran from getting the bomb.”
But in his own speech to the U.N., President Obama refused to issue a “red line” threat to Iran that it couldn’t cross without risking American military intervention. But the president did acknowledge that the space to allow diplomacy to work “was not unlimited.”
“America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe there is still time and space to do so,” Obama said. “We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United Nations is to see that we harness that power for peace.”
While Iran denies any interest in possessing nuclear arms, the international community fears it may turn its peaceful uranium enrichment program toward weapons making — a concern that is growing as Tehran expands the number of machines it uses to enrich its stockpile of enriched uranium. As those fears grow, so does concern that Israel could carry out its threats to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities before that nation reaches the bomb-making threshold.
Israeli journalist-turned-politician Yair Lapid has accused Netanyahu of trying to drag the United States into war with Iran.
In his first English interview since announcing his bid for a seat in the Israeli Knesset, Lapid said Netanyahu made mistakes by instigating a conflict with the Obama administration, betting that Republican candidate Mitt Romney would win the election and threatening Iran with military action rather than focusing on intensifying sanctions.
“Netanyahu has created a situation in which it became an Israel-Iran problem and not a world-Iran problem,” Lapid told the Jerusalem Post.
“There is only one way to end the Iranian nuclear threat: The fall of the ayatollahs. An Israeli strike would only delay the Iranian nuclear problem. It would enable the Iranians to say we have been attacked by a nuclear country and now we have no choice but to develop nuclear weapons. The way to make the ayatollahs fall is to strengthen the sanctions.”
The survey, unveiled at the Brookings Institution on Monday, surveyed 737 Americans in the wake of the anti-American protests in the Middle East to get a sense of how the events in the region affected US attitudes toward the region. The poll had a +/-4.6 margin of error.
The survey also found that a plurality of Americans (42%) want aid to Egypt decreased, but the rest were nearly equally split over ending it altogether (29%) or keeping it the same (25%). A mere 1% wanted the aid to be increased. However, American opinion about Egypt has dropped significantly since April 2011, with only 39% of Americans now holding a positive view of the country as opposed to 60% right after the revolution.
However, Telhami pointed out that the drop occurred before the recent protests at the US embassy in Egypt, and tracks with a drop in public perceptions of Turkey.
In terms of the violence that killed a US ambassador combined with spiraling demonstrations throughout the region in September, the poll found that about two-thirds of Americans attribute these activities to “extremist minorities” rather than majorities of the population.