Saturday, December 19, 2009

In Arab public opinion, is fear of Iran eclipsing fear of Israel?

A recent article in the Financial Times ("Iran woos Arab states as sanctions loom" - December 14, 2009) contains a real shocker:
A survey by YouGov, commissioned by Qatar’s Doha Debates and published last week, found that on the Arab side 80 per cent of those surveyed do not believe Iran’s assurances that it is not trying to develop nuclear weapons.

The poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 people in 18 Arab countries last month, found that most see Iran as a bigger threat to security than Israel, with a third believing Iran is just as likely as Israel to target Arab countries.
(Also reported in Qatar's Gulf Times and the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.)

I gather that the poll has not been fully released yet, so the details are uncertain (including which 18 Arab countries were polled). And, as always, one always has to take poll results with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, results like these are startling and potentially significant.

A number of Arab governments have long felt that Iran poses a greater threat--to them and to the region as a whole, as distinct from the Palestinians--than Israel. (In the real world, Israel and "Zionism" pose no threat at all to the vast majority of Arabs and other Muslims, popular delusions to the contrary.) But they couldn't say so openly, and it has been generally assumed that public opinion in the Arab world continues to be far more obsessed with hostility toward Israel. Perhaps not. Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, & Co. may need to retool their PR approach, at the very least.

--Jeff Weintraub