AJC Poll Advances Baseless Claim That Attack Will ‘Prevent’ Iran From Developing Nuclear Weapons

Reposted by arrangement with Think Progress

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) released its annual poll of Jewish-American public opinion yesterday, which, as with all demographics, showed a dip in Jewish support for President Obama over various issues including his handling of Israel-related matters. All the usual neocon partisans, who would love to see Obama wounded because of the importance of Jewish Americans to the Democrats, seized on the some version of the news. But the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, in an article accurately headlined “Obama disappoints, but we’ll vote for him,” hit on a point of the survey the others missed:

On Iran, Jewish voters are much more hawkish than the president. If sanctions fail to halt Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, 56 percent favor the U.S. taking military action, and 88 percent favor Israel doing so.

Rubin initially got one of the numbers wrong (the post has since been corrected): In reality, only 68 percent of respondents said they would support Israeli military action. (Both figures are down slightly, within the margin of error, from last fall’s AJC poll.) But the questions themselves, which are typical of this issue, are tricky. Here are the relevant questions and (actual) numbers from the AJC poll:

While the survey asks about strikes “to prevent [Iran] developing nuclear weapons,” military analysts and non-proliferation experts from both the U.S. and Israel agree that attacking Iran’s nuclear installations would only delay — not stop — Iran’s nuclear progress.

At an event hosted by the Arms Control Association in Washington last week, senior fellow Greg Thielmann said, “[E]ven U.S. airstrikes would only delay, not prevent, an Iranian nuclear weapons capacity.”

That judgment corresponds with that of Jeffrey White, a military analyst at the pro-Israel Washington Institute, who said this summer:

You can’t destroy knowledge and you can’t destroy the basic technology. The setback to the program would be measured in years I think — two years maybe three years.

White thought an Israeli strike, because of Israel’s lesser military capabilities, would cause an even smaller delay of probably only a year.

Another skeptic of the efficacy of Israeli airstrikes against Iran is the former commander of the Israel Navy, retired Rear Admiral Avraham Botzer. In June, Botzer told Haaretz:

I’m afraid the air force has convinced the politicians that an attack on Iran is possible and will achieve results. If I’m right, then we’re dealing with a dangerous illusion.

Since an Israeli strike is less likely to significantly delay Iran’s nuclear progress, perhaps American Jews show greater support for that option because of the increased threat perception. The distinction might be moot anyway, since the U.S. could potentially be dragged into a very risky regional conflict because of an Israeli strike. Those kinds of consequences of an attack weren’t so much as hinted at in AJC’s poll.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.