Conducting public opinions surveys in times of military conflict is a problematic task, mainly because of the difficulty of producing representative samples, the interruption of interviews by alarms, interviewees’ impatience, and the fear of expressing unpopular opinions because of higher-than-normal public sensitivity to questions on issues concerning the conflict. Nevertheless, we tried in three sequential surveys (on July 14, 16-17, and 23) to gauge, even if only in a general way, the public mood during Operation Protective Edge. Despite the methodological difficulties, the data point in some general directions that we will discuss—with the appropriate caution—below.
Distribution of opinions on the justness of Operation Protective Edge: From the beginning of the operation to the time of writing (July 27), there has been consistent and almost complete unanimity in the Jewish public that the launching of the operation was justified; in the three surveys we carried out, an average of 95% thought so. It is interesting that in contrast to previous operations, at least at this stage, more than two weeks after the campaign began, there is no apparent erosion in the Jewish public’s support for the military endeavor or for the government that is running it. This is so despite the large number of dead and wounded among IDF soldiers and the criticism of Israel in the international arena for the large number of Palestinian civilian casualties in Gaza.
Firepower: In a similar vein, only a tiny minority of the Jewish public (3%-4%) thinks the IDF has so far used too much firepower in the operation, with the rest divided between those who think the army has used too little (33%-57%) or that it has used the appropriate amount (37%-60%).
Assessing governmental bodies’ performance: The government, the local authorities, and the Home Front Command are all looked upon quite favorably. In all three surveys the Home Front Command came in first, with average grades in the three surveys of 9.1, 8.6, and 9.1 (on a scale of 1 to 10). After it come the local authorities, with average grades of 8.6, 8.0, and 8.2, while the government is ranked third with average grades of 8.0, 6.3, and 8.0. The lower average grades were given to the three bodies at the intermediate stage—after the possibility of a ceasefire arose and before the ground forces were added to the campaign.
Assessing the public’s performance: Unlike the similar assessments of the performance of the three governmental bodies, a very large gap emerges in the Jewish interviewees’ assessment of the performance of the Jewish and Arab populations during the operation. For all three surveys the data reveal that the Jewish population gives itself high grades (respectively, average grades of 8.9, 8.2, and 8.7) while assigning very low grades to the Arab population’s performance (respectively, 4.0, 3.4, and 3.4). This apparently stems from reports of expressions of identification with Hamas among parts of the Arab population and some of its leaders.
And where do we go from here? We wanted to find out what course, at the different time points, the public thought Israel should take. We presented six possible options to the interviewees, options that were raised in the public discourse and also by various political leaders both from coalition and opposition parties—from unilaterally holding fire to see if Hamas would stop the rocket fire, to continuing the ground combat and aerial attacks until the overthrow of Hamas rule in Gaza. Although the relevance of each of these options changed over time, the most notable finding is that, when the ground forces entered Gaza, the rate of support for a limited ground operation combined with continued aerial attacks until significantly impairing Hamas’s rocket-launching capacity rose considerably (from 46% and 49%, respectively, in the first and second surveys to 85% in the last one). Indeed, this option is currently the most popular among the Jewish public, despite—and perhaps because of—the large number of IDF casualties.
Interestingly, concurrently there was a rise in support for the option of reconquering Gaza and toppling Hamas (26% in the first survey, 35% in the second, 49% in the third), though, as we see, even in the last survey that option does not have the support of a majority.
And what will be the outcome of the operation? The prevailing expectation in the Jewish public is of another round of fighting with Hamas in the foreseeable future; that is, the present military operation will not achieve a final victory. Over time, however, there has been an increase in the rate of those who think the operation will result in a long period of quiet like the one that has followed the Second Lebanon War of 2006 (from 8% at the beginning of the operation to 30% today), with a decrease in the rate of those who foresee a further round within a short time, from 77% to 50%. That is, even though those expecting protracted quiet are still a minority, the public is now a bit more optimistic about the possibility of attaining that objective.
Negotiations index (Jewish sample): first survey—39.1, second survey—34.5, third survey—40.2
Graph of the month: In your opinion, is the IDF’s use so far of its firepower in Gaza: at the appropriate level, too much, or too little? (%, Jewish public, July 23)