A potential Chernobyl next to Israel
The Jordanian government recently announced its "determination" to reach an agreement with the U.S. regarding its nuclear program. For almost a decade, Jordanian King Abdullah II has been publicly seeking a nuclear program for Jordan. His ambition is to "turn Jordan into a regional hub for peaceful nuclear energy."
This by itself could be a recipe for a regional apocalypse. Let's consider why.
First of all, the so-called Jordanian nuclear program is like most "ambitious programs" championed by Jordan's king, basically, a huge title, a glamorous concept, building, officials appointed and nothing else. There is no Jordanian nuclear research, no know-how and not even the slightest strategy. This may ring a bell, as it is reminiscent of when late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser had a "space program" that his media kept bleating about.
A U.S. Embassy in Amman cable, made public by WikiLeaks, talked about "Jordanians' lack of understanding regarding environmental issues, seismology, and financial requirements." The points raised in the cable, each and every one of them, are enough of a recipe for disaster under the inexperienced and usually over-self-evaluating Hashemite regime of Jordan.
The Jordanian government has argued for years that many other countries have nuclear technology and have not ended up in disasters; so "why not us?" To answer this question, let's make a comparison. Jordan's regime has received more than 60 F-16 fighter jets, similar to the very jets operated by the air forces of the U.S., the Netherlands, Belgium and many other NATO nations. Israel operates the same form of F-16s, calling them the "Netz." Jordan has had eight F-16s crash in the last eight years alone, which amounts to a global record of over 13% of Jordan's fleet. Why are those jets crashing? Why are the records of other F-16 operators not nearly as bad as Jordan's? The F-16 saga shows that Jordan cannot operate, maintain or keep a state-of-the-art jet, so how could it be trusted with operating state-of-the-art nuclear plants? Could we afford the outcome of a nuclear disaster in our small country? Do our Israeli neighbors need that on their doorstep?
Nonetheless, Jordan's regime has been doing what some Arab states have been doing for years -- blaming all their failures on the "evil Zionist entity" and the "Jewish conspiracy." In 2010, the king told American media that Israel was obstructing his nuclear program, added that Israel must accept that he will have it, and then described Israel as an "a state isolated like North Korea." The king's nuclear program chief, Khaled Touqan, told the Jordanian media that Israel's then-President Shimon Peres was the one obstructing Jordan's nuclear program and lobbying against it.
The king does not seem to realize his problem is not with Israel, but in fact with the big Western powers, including the U.S. A well-informed source told me years ago that Israel was not lobbying at all against Jordan's nuclear program. In fact, it is those Western powers that don't seem to be convinced Jordan could run a safe, effective or reliable program.
Another problem for the king's nuclear bravado is money. In a recent report, Touqan admitted that Jordan did not have the financial capacity to build such a program and was seeking "a third partner" to finance it, and that's for a project that extends to 2025.
Financing major state projects, like Jordan's nuclear ambition, requires stability, and it is no secret that, sadly, our country is not stable now. In fact, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton confirmed this publicly in November 2015, stating that Jordan's future was not clear and that "we need to know whether Jordan will remain stable" and "what will happen in Jordan" before returning to the peace process.
The risk here, with an unstable regime, is not only financial, it is also a security concern; if the world cannot tell who will rule Jordan next, or what could happen there, then the world cannot confirm who will have access to the radioactive materials in the proposed nuclear facilities. Let's not forget that terrorists do not need a nuclear bomb, but just a dirty bomb in which they could use radioactive material as a component to leave long-lasting damage. We don't want this for our country, and, we are confident, neither the U.S. nor Israel could tolerate the possibility of nuclear facilities falling into the wrong hands.
Let's not forget, Bashar Assad's regime in Syria was very stable when Israel reportedly destroyed his secret nuclear reactor, which was placed near Raqqa, the very city that is now considered ISIS' capital. Imagine what could have happened if Israeli hadn't destroyed it and it had fallen into ISIS' hands; and think what could happen if Jordan's proposed nuclear facilities fall into the wrong hands someday.
Even if Jordan's regime was stable and the country was secure, could the regime be trusted with radioactive material?
In a recent scandal covered by The New York Times, Jordan's government was caught red-handed stealing weapons provided by the U.S. to Syria's moderate fighters to combat both Assad and ISIS. The Times' investigation showed that those weapons were used by a senior Jordanian police officer to kill American counterterrorism trainers last year.
Jordan's regime is trying to blame the scandal on a few intelligence officers. Nonetheless, The New York Times' report mentions that those weapons were handled by customs officers who work directly under the king's executive order as per Jordan's constitution and de facto practice. Also, in a country where the king controls everything, there is no way those officers could have pulled off such a plan without the regime's involvement.
If the U.S. cannot trust Jordan's regime with conventional weapons, it should not trust it with nuclear material that could be sold for huge amounts of money on the black market, with potential customers ranging from rogue states, such as Iran, to terrorist organizations.
Jordan's government lacks the transparency and governance in general and seems to not have much nuclear knowledge. Even if the regime had the 100% best intentions, such a program could end up a new Chernobyl that would endanger Jordan, Israel and American interests.
Mudar Zahran is secretary-general of the Jordanian Opposition Coalition. Twitter @mudar_zahran.