JERUSALEM Only one in five Israeli Jews believes a nuclear-armed Iran would try to destroy Israel and most see life continuing as normal should their arch-foe get the bomb, an opinion poll published on Sunday found.
The survey, commissioned by a Tel Aviv University think tank, appeared to challenge the argument of successive Israeli governments that Iran must be denied the means to make atomic weapons lest it threaten the existence of the Jewish state.
Asked how a nuclear-armed Iran would affect their lives, 80 percent of respondents said they expected no change. Eleven percent said they would consider emigrating and 9 percent said they would consider relocating inside Israel.
Twenty-one percent of Israelis believe Iran "would attack Israel with nuclear weapons with the objective of destroying it," the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), which commissioned the poll, said in a statement.
Iran says its uranium enrichment, which has bomb-making potential, is for energy only. But its leaders' anti-Israel rhetoric and support for Islamist guerrillas in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories have stirred fears of a regional war.
Some Israeli officials have said that the Islamic republic's ruling clerics may consider destroying Israel a goal worth the risk even of a devastating counter-strike: Israel is widely assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal.
A longer-term scenario sees Iran using the nuclear specter to undermine Israelis' desire to stay in their homeland.
"The Israeli leadership may be more informed," INSS research director Yehuda Ben Meir told Reuters, explaining that the discrepancy between public and government views about Iran.
But he added: "I think the Israeli public does not see this as an existential threat, and here there may be an exaggeration by some members of the leadership.
"Most Israelis appear willing to place their bet on Israel's deterrent capability and, I would add, on Iran's rational behavior."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to give a major policy speech on Sunday citing Iran's reach among the reasons his government is reluctant to cede occupied land for a Palestinian state, as envisaged by U.S.-led peace mediators.
Like his predecessors, Netanyahu has hinted Israel could attack Iran pre-emptively should Western diplomacy fail to curb its uranium enrichment.
The INSS survey found 59 percent of Israeli Jews would support such strikes, while 41 percent would not back the military option.
The poll had 616 respondents and a margin of error of 3.5 percent, Ben Meir said.
Israeli Arabs who make up some 20 percent of the population -- and are generally less likely to see themselves as targets of the Jewish state's enemies -- were not included for budgetary reasons, he said.
A separate survey, commissioned by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, found 52 percent support for pre-emptive Israeli attacks on Iran, with 35 percent of respondents opposed.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)
(For blogs and links on Israeli politics and other Israeli and Palestinian news, go to blogs.reuters.com/axismundi)