Public Sees Shared Blame in Israel-Hezbollah Conflict


Aug. 7, 2006 — -- Americans find room to criticize both sides in the Israel-Hezbollah war: A majority said Hezbollah is mainly to blame for civilian casualties in Lebanon, given its location in civilian areas. But many also said Israel hasn't done enough to avoid those casualties.

Americans divide evenly on whether Israel's bombing of civilian areas is justified -- a tepid level of support for a longtime ally. And while very few blame Israel alone for the conflict, more blame both sides equally than blame only Hezbollah.

Just 38 percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll said Israel is "doing all it reasonably can" to avoid civilian casualties in Lebanon, while 54 percent say it should do more. In contrast, in a June ABC/Post poll, 58 percent said the United States was doing all it could to avoid harming civilians in Iraq.

Despite the lack of widespread support for Israeli actions, nearly six in 10 Americans blame primarily Hezbollah for causing Lebanese casualties by locating its rockets and fighters in civilian areas; just two in 10 said Israel is more to blame for bombing those areas.

More generally, 32 percent, said Israel has used too much force in the current conflict, about as many as say it's using the right amount. Fewer, about two in 10, said it's not using enough force.

CEASE-FIRE -- On a cease-fire, public sentiment is more with Israel. Fifty-five percent said it should agree to a cease-fire only if Hezbollah disarms first, a position taken last week by Israel and the United States alike. (A cease-fire plan at the United Nations faltered this weekend on Lebanese complaints that it didn't call for the withdrawal of Israeli forces.)

Ultimately, two-thirds support creation of a U.N. peacekeeping force to separate the combatants. But among those who support a U.N. force, nearly six in 10 say the United States should not participate in it. In addition to the risks, this likely reflects public unease with the idea of placing U.S. forces under U.N. command.

Regarding direct U.S. interests, just more than a third of Americans think the battle between Israel and Hezbollah will worsen the situation for the United States in Iraq. More, 54 percent, said it won't make much difference there. (President Bush gets mixed marks for handling the Israel-Hezbollah situation: 43 percent approve, 50 percent disapprove.)

Most, moreover, think it will come to naught for Israel: Just 21 percent believe the conflict will end in a way that makes Israel more secure, while nearly three-quarters believe Israel's security will remain unchanged, or worse than it was when the fighting began.

GROUPS -- Views on the conflict are strongly influenced by factors that include political partisanship, ideology, race and religious preference. Republicans are substantially more supportive of Israel, Democrats less so. One reason is that support for Israel spikes among conservatives and evangelical white Protestants, which are core Republican groups.

Overall, for instance, about six in 10 Republicans call the Israeli attacks on Hezbollah targets in civilian areas justified, while six in 10 Democrats disagree. Independents split evenly on the question.

Republicans, by more than a 4-1 margin, blame Hezbollah more than Israel for Lebanese civilian casualties; Democrats blame Hezbollah as well, but by a much narrower margin, less than 2-1. And about seven in 10 Republicans said Israel should agree to a cease-fire only after Hezbollah disarms; just 48 percent of Democrats agree. Reluctance to contribute U.S. troops to a U.N. peacekeeping force, however, crosses partisan lines.

As noted, ideology plays a key role in partisan differences. Conservatives are twice as likely as liberals to call the Israeli bombing justified, much more likely to blame Hezbollah for Lebanese civilian deaths and more likely to say Israel should agree to a cease-fire only if Hezbollah disarms first.

Race and religion also are factors, with whites, especially with white evangelical Protestants, who are particularly supportive of Israel.

METHODOLOGY -- This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone August 3-6, 2006, among a random national sample of 1,002 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events