Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a Dec. 2 news conference in Rome. A recent poll shows most of the Israeli public supports Netanyahu's rejection of a US-backed interim nuclear deal with Iran. (Agence France-Press)
TEL AVIV — A clear majority of the Israeli public supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strident opposition to a recently inked interim deal with Iran, even if it means alienating its key ally in Washington.
While a growing number of Israeli security experts are urging Netanyahu to mute rejectionist rhetoric and cooperate with Washington and other world powers seeking a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear threat, the public at large appears to support continued confrontation.
According to the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), 77 percent of Israelis say Netanyahu “is right to continue warning the world of the danger Iran poses.”
Similarly, 77 percent of Israelis polled do not believe the interim agreement concluded last month in Geneva would lead to the end of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Although 63 percent of Jewish Israelis disagree that Netanyahu’s bellicosity is creating distance with Washington, 49 percent think Israel “needs to find other allies and reduce its dependence on the US in the international arena.”
But even if Israel opts to cultivate new allies, only 27 percent of the Israeli public — 26 percent of Jewish Israelis and 31 percent of Arab Israelis — believe Israel will succeed, according to IDI polling data.
Despite warnings of looming global isolation and a damaging rift with Washington, Netanyahu continues to assail world powers for acceding to sanctions relief without first securing a commitment to fully dismantle Iran’s nuclear program.
In a Dec. 2 press conference in Rome, Netanyahu reiterated his rejection of the Geneva agreement and warned world powers not to rush precipitously into a deal that would unravel the sanctions regime.
In another implicit threat of Israeli military action, Netanyahu warned that the end of sanctions would “mark the end of the possibility of reaching a peaceful resolution to the question of ending Iran’s military nuclear program.”
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in a Dec. 1 address to Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, slammed Netanyahu’s “unprecedented” public aggression as “utterly misguided” and ultimately injurious to Israeli security.
“We’ve declared war on the American government,” Olmert said .
Previous Israeli governments, including his own, would never consider “going into battle against our best ally and to whip up Congress,” Olmert said of the current government’s clashes with the administration of US President Barack Obama.
Omert echoed Israeli President Shimon Peres and others who are calling for Israel to trust Obama’s repeated pledges not to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and to stop repeated threats of military attack.
“Israel should be a partner in this fight, but cannot and should not lead the international fight,” Olmert said.
Responding to Olmert’s unusually harsh remarks, Netanyahu told reporters accompanying him on an official visit in Rome: “It’s very easy to be silent. It is very easy to receive a pat on the shoulder from the international community and to bow one’s head. But I am committed to the security of my people.”