The Corner

What Do Arabs Really Think about an Iranian Nuke?

Jeffrey Goldberg’s new article in The Atlantic has sparked much discussion on the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. At several points throughout the piece, Goldberg discusses concern among Arab regimes, “which fear an Iranian bomb with an intensity that in some instances matches Israel’s.” Such reporting follows other recent anecdotes of Arab elite fears of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

A week ago yesterday, the Brookings Institution held an event to release a new poll that appeared to find a lack of such apprehension among the Arab public. The poll, conducted by Shibley Telhami, the University of Maryland, and Zogby International, found that 57 percent of citizens in six Arab states believed that an Iranian nuclear weapons program would be a “positive” development for the region — compared to only 29 percent who said such in 2009. This dramatic, nearly 30-point surge counters data from a bevy of other polls that have revealed continued Arab worry over an Iranian nuclear weapon.

No other major poll conducted in the last few years has reported such a seismic shift across the Arab world or in any of the six countries polled by Telhami. Instead, organizations such as Pew, Pechter Middle East Polling, Doha Debates, and BBC/Globescan have reported steady or, in some cases, increased concern over the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon. Telhami’s poll itself showed significant support for sanctions against Iran (revealing concern over a nuclear program) in Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

Many factors, including differences in question wording, might explain the difference between the Telhami poll and its counterparts. I explore these challenges and contradictory polling in a new piece for The American today:

The recent poll diverges from other recent polling of the Arab world. When attempting to understand Arab public opinion, policy makers, the media, and the public should take into account these contradictory polls and the overall difficulty of polling the Arab world.

As policymakers consider options for dealing with Iran, they need to be aware of the full spectrum of information before them, and not let one poll disguise what is likely mounting frustration among Arab allies over Iran’s continued march towards a nuclear weapon.

Charlie Szrom is senior analyst and program manager for the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.

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