Almost a quarter of Israel's seven million citizens will consider leaving the country if Iran becomes a nuclear military power, according to a new poll.

The poll also shows that more than 40% 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% 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 Mahmoud 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."

"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."