A funny thing happened on the way to the Showdown at the AIPAC Corral, where pro-war Republicans and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu have been planning to ambush President Obama with charges of being “soft on Iran” because US military commanders have said that an Israeli military attack on Iran would be a very bad idea.
Someone asked the Israeli public what they thought.
And it turns out that the majority of Israelis have their shekels on the lanky guy from Chicago.
In a poll conducted this month by Professor Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland and Israel's Dahaf Institute, only 19 percent of Israelis said they would support an Israeli military attack on Iran if it is not approved by the US.
But that's not even the most striking result of the poll.
The poll suggests that the reason that the majority of Israelis don't support an Israeli military strike on Iran without US approval is not because they are afraid of making the US angry. The poll suggests that the reason that the majority of Israelis do not support an Israeli military strike on Iran without US approval is that they share the cautions of US officials against an Israeli strike on Iran: they think that the costs would be high, and the benefits small or nonexistent.
That is, they see the assessments of US officials of the dubious merits of an Israeli strike as good data – better data than they are getting from Prime Minister Netanyahu.
A majority of Israelis think an Israeli war with Iran would last months or years. Two-thirds think Hizbullah would join Iran in retaliating against Israel. As many Israelis think an Israeli military strike would strengthen Iran's government as think it would weaken it. A slim majority think an Israeli strike would delay Iran's nuclear program by more than a year; nearly a third think it would have no effect on Iran's nuclear program or even accelerate it.
Coming on the eve of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference, where official Washington will be pledging its “support for Israel,” this is a powerful result. It means that those who are advocating an Israeli military attack on Iran are not speaking for Israeli public opinion.
It's Israeli civilians, not Americans, who live in the region in which Iran continues to have a nuclear program; but it's also Israeli civilians, much more so than Americans, who would pay the price of Iranian retaliation for an Israeli strike (keeping in mind, as US officials noted again this week, that Americans would also pay a significant price for an Israeli strike). It's Israelis who would be in bomb shelters – bomb shelters to which, the head of the Knesset Civil Defense Committee says, almost one in four Israelis do not have access.
This example illustrates why letting the AIPAC be described as “pro-Israel” is so harmful. To do so conflates the interests of one group of right-wing political actors with the interests of the millions of human beings who call themselves Israeli. And, of course, that's exactly what AIPAC and the McCain-Graham-Lieberman axis of warmongering want. But the interests of the two groups of people are not necessarily the same, and they are certainly not the same in this case.
It has been said that Saudi Arabia is ready to fight Iran to the last American soldier. Perhaps AIPAC and the McCain-Graham-Lieberman axis of warmongering are ready to fight Iran to the last Israeli. But they should not be allowed to call themselves “pro-Israel” while they do so.
AIPAC is expected to push Congress for legislation next week that would facilitate an Israeli military strike on Iran. If you think sending Israelis to bomb shelters against their will isn't necessarily “pro-Israel,” why not tell your representatives in Congress? The Friends Committee on National Legislation has established a toll-free number for you to use: 1-855-686-6927.