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Israeli public opinion makes a US-Iran nuclear deal urgent

Israeli public opinion makes a US-Iran nuclear deal urgent, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Doreen Horschig | May 14, 2021   Israel has consistently opposed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that the Biden administration is seeking to revive. The recent diplomatic talks in Vienna have been a welcome opportunity for proponents of the deal. But when progress was reported, Israel allegedly damaged an Iranian military vessel and a few days later caused a power outage at the Iranian nuclear site in Natanz.

Israel believes Tehran never abandoned its ambition to become a nuclear-armed state and that the deal paves the path for realizing this ambition. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his administration have been trying to convince the United States that a return to the JCPOA would be a mistake unless major flaws are addressed.

There are some straightforward reasons why it might be in Israel’s interest to revive the JCPOA, including a reduction of Iran’s installed centrifuges and stockpiles of enriched uranium. But another reason for reviving the deal has received little attention: Israeli public opinion. Not because the public supports the JCPOA (they don’t), but because—as my own recent research found—the Israeli public is highly hawkish and would be supportive of a nuclear first strike against a nuclear-armed Iran.

In other words, the world cannot rely on the Israeli public to avoid atomic warfare in the Middle East. Because of this, the Biden administration needs to redouble its efforts to make sure that the United States and Iran re-enter the nuclear deal. If Iran further develops the bomb and eventually obtains it, Israel’s government has public backing for a nuclear first strike against Iran—which would be both a regional and global disaster. The Israeli public will not provide a constraint if a nuclear strike is being considered………………

Israeli public opinion. Very few recent polls have attempted to identify preferences among the Israeli population for a nuclear strike. To fill this gap, I worked with Midgam—an Israeli research and consulting firm that frequently partners with academics—last summer to survey a nationally representative sample of 1,022 Israeli adults, including both Jews and Arabs. The survey aims to understand the circumstances under which people might support a first strike with a nuclear weapon………..

My survey results confirm a large hawkish majority indeed lurks within the Israeli public. Survey respondents read a government press release presenting a scenario that included an Iranian nuclear threat—and suggesting that an Israeli nuclear strike would effectively destroy an Iranian nuclear facility. The respondents were then asked: “Given the facts described in the article, if Israel decides to strike, how much would you approve or disapprove of this decision?” The findings suggest that 60 percent of Israelis approved of a nuclear first strike on Natanz if they felt threatened by a (hypothetically) nuclear-armed Iran. Even with a reminder of likely Iranian retaliation, approval for a strike was higher (45 percent) than disapproval (38 percent).

When I dug deeper to explore why some people are so supportive of the use of an atomic bomb, my research suggested that Israelis who were reminded of their mortality (through open-ended questions about their own deaths) were significantly more likely to support nuclear use in a first strike than those who were not reminded of death. Though it may seem paradoxical, a theory of psychology called Terror Management Theory predicts just that. It suggests that, when individuals are prompted to think of their own death, they become less risk-averse and increase their support for extreme aggression toward whatever it is that challenges their worldview—a worldview that normally provides a defensive death-denying belief. And what could remind Israelis more of their death than the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran?

This all suggests that the public cannot be counted on to be a constraint on Israeli leadership. Unlike during the Cold War, when people took to the streets to protest the US-Soviet arms race and use of nuclear weapons, there is currently no visible pro-disarmament sentiment in Israel. No public opposition in Israel will put a check on an Israeli nuclear first strike.

To avoid a dire conflict, it is in Israel’s interest to support diplomatic steps. So far, the JCPOA has prevented a trajectory to a nuclear first strike more effectively than counterproliferation measures and withdrawal did. If Israel needs one more reason to sympathize with the JCPOA, here it is: Public hawkishness could be a contributing factor that spirals the country into a nuclear crisis.

……….. If Israel wants to prevent a situation in which a nuclear-armed Iran causes the Israeli citizenry to support a nuclear first strike, then it should get on board with the JCPOA. And the Israeli public’s hawkishness should give the Biden administration an increased sense of purpose and urgency.

The window of opportunity to revive the Iran nuclear deal is closing quickly………………While the deal is not perfect, it’s at least a measure that has shown effectiveness in the past. ……….https://thebulletin.org/2021/05/israeli-public-opinion-makes-a-us-iran-nuclear-deal-urgent?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=MondayNewsletter05172021&utm_content=NuclearRisk_IranDealUrgent_05142021

May 18, 2021 - Posted by | Israel, politics international, public opinion

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