(photo credit: AP)
To attack or not to attack Iran? That is the question – or rather, one of the
questions – asked as part of a “global attitudes survey” conducted by the Pew
Research Institute in Washington. And the results? Surprising, especially with
respect to attitudes toward Iran and its nuclear program.
canvassed 22 countries, was conducted in the mother tongue of the respondents,
and included relatively large sample groups. Eight out of 10 Germans, seven out
of 10 Frenchmen and six out of 10 Britons hold negative views about
Even in countries with a predominantly Muslim majority, 66 percent
in Egypt, 63% in Jordan and 60% in Lebanon hold a negative opinion of
It is interesting that in Turkey, whose leadership seems to be
moving closer to the Islamic Republic, 58% hold a negative opinion about the
Shi’ite state. This may be explained by the fact that most Turks are
Indeed, the results from Lebanon demonstrate how severe the Sunni-
Shi’ite rift actually is – 80% of Sunnis hold a negative position with respect
to Iran, while 95% of Shi’ites support it.
A clear majority also oppose
nuclear weapons in Iran; 98% of respondents in Germany, 96% in Japan, 95% in
France, 94% in the US and 90% in Britain do not want to see nuclear weapons in
Although 66% in Egypt, 64% in Lebanon and 63% in Turkey do not want
to see nuclear weapons in Iran, only some of them see this as a serious
SURVEYS ARE problematic.
Beyond the ability of these tools
to reflect public opinion, it can be argued that they reflect “only” public
opinion, some in nondemocratic rule. But even in nondemocratic regimes, perhaps
especially in them, a survey might be the only way to know what people
Why is it important to know where world opinion is tending
regarding Iran? Because answers have considerable impact on the policy response
that may be adopted vis-à-vis the nuclear-aspiring state. More importantly, the
survey shows that of those who oppose Iran’s nuclear program, more respondents
are willing to consider military action to prevent it from obtaining nuclear
weapons over those who prefer to avoid confrontation.
Anyone who thought
that Muslim countries would evince an absolute rejection of this option should
look at the results in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Indonesia, where 55%, 53%, 44%
and 39%, respectively, say Iran should be denied nuclear capability even at the
cost of military confrontation.
It seems that world opinion supports more
than ever an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Indeed 66% of Americans, 59%
of French and half of the Spanish, German, British, Brazilian and Indian
respondents prefer to keep Iran from nuclear weapons even at the cost of
However, there are still opponents of the move, even if their
number is lower: 41% in France, 39% in Germany, 37% in the UK, 34% in
24% in the US can be very “vocal” and have a greater impact.
one can argue that the questions were phrased with the notion that
action will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons built into them.
military action won’t be successful? It is unclear whether the survey
world public opinion and what impact, if any, it has on decision makers.
seems that half the population understands that the military option
fair price, but that the price of a nuclear Iran is higher, and perhaps
justifies use of that option.
For all its limitations, the survey
provides a glimpse into attitudes on the subject, and it might help
considering all options against Iran to better understand where the wind
The writer is a research fellow at the
Institute for National
Security Studies, Tel Aviv University. He joined INSS after coordinating
the Iranian nuclear challenge at the National Security Council in the