Saudis view Israel, not Iran, as the biggest threat to regional security, according to a Jerusalem poll released Wednesday.
The poll, which surveyed hundreds of people in the Gulf and in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Morocco, the US and Germany, also found that recent normalization deals with a cold reception for Israel revealed the differences between the positions of authoritarian regimes in moderate Sunni states and their population.
When asked which country most threatens Middle East stability, 33 percent of Saudis chose Israel, compared with 25% for Iran.
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In Bahrain, a Shia majority country ruled by a Sunni elite who recently agreed to normalize ties with Israel, 24% chose Israel, compared with 18% who pointed to Iran.
Respondents in Qatar, Morocco and the PA also cited Israel as the biggest threat. Moroccans said Turkey was the second biggest threat to the Middle East, with Iran in third.
Only Israelis (45%) and residents of the United Arab Emirates (27%) chose Iran, although 17% of Emirates respondents still chose Israel as the top threat.
Both the US and Germany saw the US as the main instigator of instability in the Middle East, putting Iran in second place.
The findings seem to contradict the view of virtually all Middle Eastern analysts who say the Sunni Arab states are getting closer to Israel, which they see as a strong ally in the concerted fight against Shia Iran.
“Everyone in Israel thinks that everyone in the Arab world sees Iran as a huge threat, but I can tell you that even Israelis are not convinced Iran is such a threat,” said Jerusalem-based pollster Mitchell Barak, who conducted the investigation on behalf of Konrad. Adenauer Foundation said.
The investigation also found that Iran is not seen as a major regional threat, as is often believed. When asked to rank the Iranian threat from 1 (very low) to 10 (very high), Israeli respondents responded with an average of 7.4. The number was significantly lower in Bahrain (3.8), Qatar (4.3), Morocco (5.3), the UAE (6) and Saudi Arabia (6.8).
“Iran is not really considered that big of a threat,” said Barak.
The poll, which had a 4-5% margin of error depending on the country, polled between 300 and 600 respondents in each place, although only 267 from Qatar were included.
The poll data was collected through ads in mobile phone apps in nine different countries. In some Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain, public opinion is tightly controlled by the respective regimes, and some pollsters say it is difficult to gauge actual public opinion in many Gulf states.
In Bahrain, for example, Barak’s company, Keevoon, had to go to great lengths to locate enough respondents to allow a representative sample, including offering compensation.
While online polls are generally considered less reliable than telephone or in-person surveys, the results generally dovetailed with previous surveys that also showed less support for normalization with Israel than through official telegraphic campaigns promoting the deals.
Only 46% of respondents from the UAE and 31% from Bahrain said they had a favorable impression of Israel. Forty-three percent and 48% respectively had an unfavorable impression.
“Israelis love Emirates and Bahraini far more than we do,” Barak said. “On Israeli social media outlets, I see what amounts to a love feast between Israel and the Gulf. But they don’t like us as much as we do. “
Two thirds of the Israeli respondents felt good about the UAE. One in two Israelis has a favorable view of Bahrain.
Manama and Abu Dhabi recently signed standardization agreements, known as the Abraham Accords, establishing formal diplomatic ties with Jerusalem, after decades of refusing to recognize the Jewish state despite clandestine security cooperation.
According to the survey, 86% of Israelis (and 72% of Israeli Arabs) support these agreements. In contrast, only 69% of the emirates and 46% of the Bahrainians were in favor of the deals their respective governments made with Israel.
The U.S. government has negotiated these agreements, and Washington officials say a number of Arab states are also keen to normalize relations with Israel. Only 52% of the Qataris, 35% of the Saudis and 17% of the Moroccans expressed support for the Abraham Accords.
Other Arab countries have an even worse view of the Jewish state, the poll found: only 16% of Moroccans, 23% of Saudis and 28% of Qataris had a favorable view of Israel (70%, 65% respectively and 59%). had an unfavorable opinion).
The survey found that 52% of Israeli respondents have warm feelings for Morocco. Forty-five percent of respondents said they are positive about Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The investigation also showed that there was only “lukewarm support” for Israel’s right to exist, Barak said.
For example, one in two Bahraini and one third of UAE respondents disagreed with the claim that Israel has the right to exist. The numbers were even higher in Saudi Arabia (62%), Qatar (57%) and Morocco (56%).
The survey is the latest in a series of recent opinion polls pointing to widespread disapproval of standardization in the UAE and Bahrain. A 2017 Washington Institute survey found that only about 15% of both Sunnis and Shias in Bahrain supported diplomatic rapprochement with the Jewish state.
In July 2020, just two months before normalization with Israel, a subsequent think tank survey found that 80% of the Emiratis disagreed with the statement that “people who want to have business or sports contacts with Israelis should be able to do this. “
Another study from the Doha Institute’s recent Arab Opinion Index also indicated that many ordinary people in Arab states often disagree with their government over Israel.
“Everyone loves the Palestinians, however,” Barak said during a Zoom presentation of his findings. Almost three-quarters of the emirates, the Bahraini and the Saudi population, and no less than 80% of the Qataris, have a positive view of the Palestinian Authority.
The survey, conducted in late October and early November, also shows continued support for the Palestinian state in the Arab world, as 90% of Moroccans, 85% of Qataris, 81% of Emiratis and 72% of the Bahraini population said she was in favor of the creation of a Palestinian state.
In contrast, only about a third of Israeli and 45% of US respondents supported the idea of a Palestinian state.