Last Updated: Sun Mar 04, 2012 12:05 pm (KSA) 09:05 am (GMT)

Eman El-Shenawi: Israel, Iran, America: Our opinion matters?

Opinion polls have us believe that our views really matter. But when it comes to hot topics such as the nuclear furor over Iran, do we really have a say? (File photo)
Opinion polls have us believe that our views really matter. But when it comes to hot topics such as the nuclear furor over Iran, do we really have a say? (File photo)

You have lived and been brought up in a democracy; learned and identified the worth of your opinion, you know when to voice it and assume it should be heard. All your life you’ve heard mantras such as “power to the people” or have found yourself giving comebacks such as “Why not? It’s a free country.” But then the politics kick in.

You find out, be it democracy or not, your opinion will probably not make much difference.

Take for example one of world’s most heated political discussions going on right now: the prospect of an Israeli preemptive attack on Iran and whether or not the United States will lend a helping hand to Jerusalem.

Tehran maintains that it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes, not to build a nuclear weapon. Meanwhile, Israel, widely believed to be the region’s only atomic power, has said a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to its existence.

A U.S.-Israeli joint academic initiative last week polled 500 people in Israel, asking them for their opinion on a strike on Iran.

The result: 34 percent opposed an attack; 42 percent said they would only support an attack if it had Washington’s backing; 19 percent believed Iran should be attacked even without U.S. support.

The conclusion: A wide majority oppose the attack, with many only agreeing to it under the condition of simultaneous U.S. action.

The reality: Their opinion does and will not matter to Israeli, U.S. or even Iranian policymakers.

The clashing members within this potentially destructive troika may have already made their decisions over the issue; interpreting diplomatic threats as real or imagined, speculating and assessing who will make the first move, all the while certain that they know what is best for their country and most probably, not paying as much attention to public opinion as the average Joe would like to think.

It’s a messy game, but each nation has enough on its plate than have to listen to the public for ideas. After all, Mr. Joe does not understand the extent of the threat nor its ramifications, Benjamin Netanyahu might argue. Yes, the Israeli Prime Minister has enough on his plate, like first trying to find out whether his top ally is an actual supporter...

The U.S. administration is now pondering over what it has to lose if it joins forces with Israel now to deal with Iran. The answer is, far too much; the November elections, a stable economy and a repeat of Iraq, are just some of the possible forfeitures. The U.S. has however carried out certain safeguards, so as to not allow Israel or Gulf states (also fearful of Iran) to assume that Washington is completely snubbing the nuclear threat. A few warnings here, a couple of sanctions there and even if the U.S. decides against a strike, Washington has these as “alibis,” Haaretz writer Ari Shavit described them as.

Over the coming period, Israel will exert a lot of effort in trying to persuade Washington to support its mission, highlighting threats wherever possible, mentioning Iran at every instance. Even when North Korea decided to cooperate with the U.S. over a nuclear moratorium this week, Netanyahu was quick to say that this would model would not fit Iran.

And after all these enduring shenanigans, do you see why your opinion won’t disrupt these political quirks? The policymakers have bigger fish to fry. The bigger picture says they are thinking about you, when it comes to elections, the economy and so forth. But they’ll go ahead without you because they know the threats and you don’t. So they’ll have you believe.

(Eman El-Shenawi, a writer at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at:

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