Almost a quarter of Israel's seven million citizens would consider leaving the country if Iran becomes a nuclear military power, according to a new poll.
The poll also shows that over 40 per cent of Israelis believe that their military forces should strike Iran's nuclear installations without waiting to see whether US President Barack Obama's plans for diplomatic engagement with Tehran work or not.
The findings, in a study by the Centre for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University, uncover deep pessimism among Israelis on the issue, with 85 per cent of respondents expressing concern that Iran will acquire a nuclear weapon.
If the findings accurately reflect public feeling, they suggest that an unprecedented demographic catastrophe could unfold in Israel should Iran obtain a warhead.
The head of the Tel Aviv centre, David Menashri, blamed the heightened rhetoric of both sides for the findings. He said: "It seems that the violent language used by President Ahmadinejad and his assertions about wiping Israel from the page of history, in addition to Iranian advancement of its nuclear and ballistic programmes, created a real concern among Israelis."
He added: "The Israeli public statements and talks of 'existential threat' used by Israeli leaders to alert the world of its concern could only lead to popular anxiety."
Professor Menashri, who has himself in the past advocated US diplomatic engagement with Iran, said: "Still, I think it is important to note that half of the population surveyed [49 per cent] still believe a diplomatic route should used. Ten per cent even believe that Israel itself should engage in diplomatic attempts with Iran."
Women and older people were particularly fearful that Iran would obtain nuclear weapons. Some 83 per cent of women said they fear such a scenario compared with 78 per cent of men.
Surprisingly, the findings show that 80 per cent of left-wing voters, compared with 67 per cent of right-wing voters, expressed deep concern over a nuclear Iran. Centrist voters were the most worried of all, with 88 per cent saying that they feared Iran would obtain the bomb.