Obama outreach to Muslims worries Israelis

A solid majority of Jewish Israelis worry that President Barack Obama's outreach to the Arab and Muslim world will come at their expense, a new poll showed Monday.

Israelis also strongly back stopping Iran's nuclear program, even if Israel has to attack Iran without American approval, according to the survey.

The poll found that 63 percent of those questioned believe Israel will suffer from Obama's declared intention to reconcile with the Muslim and Arab worlds. At the same time, 60 percent of respondents said they view Obama favorably or very favorably, as opposed to 14 percent who regard him unfavorably.

"Israelis like Obama as a person, but they also have reservations about his policy and ability to deal effectively with the Middle East," said Eytan Gilboa, a professor at Bar-Ilan University who directed the poll.

The poll of 610 people was conducted last week by Bar-Ilan's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and the Anti-Defamation League, a US - based Jewish advocacy group.

It has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points. It did not question members of Israel's Arab minority, who make up 20 percent of the country's 7.4 million people.

Obama has called for engaging Iran diplomatically in order to defuse an international standoff over Tehran's suspect nuclear program. Obama also has begun a dialogue with Syria.

Israel believes Iran is developing nuclear weapons, and accuses both Iran and Syria of backing anti-Israeli militant groups, like Hamas and Hezbollah.

"Israelis fear that President Obama's opening to talks with Iran, Syria and perhaps even Hamas, will be taken as appeasement by these radical actors," added BESA's director, Professor Efraim Inbar.

The results were released on the eve of Obama's first meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Iranian nuclear threat will be a top item at those meetings.

The poll also revealed that 66 percent of the people surveyed said Israel should take military action against Iranian nuclear facilities should diplomacy and sanctions fail, while 75 percent of those who support military action would back it even if the U.S. opposed such a strike.

Israel and the West are skeptical of Iran's claims that its nuclear program is designed to produce energy, not bombs. But US officials have said recently that any Israeli military strike would be ill-advised.