By now, it’s no secret to most that HM King Abdullah has publicly accused Israel for its “underhanded” attempts to halt Jordan’s nuclear energy program by pressuring the French and the South Koreans not to sell the country reactors. The King’s message to the Israelis, as voiced in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, has been quite straightforward. “[The Israelis must] mind their own business”.
One can safely assume that Israel is likely responsible for the US’s recent grumblings regarding Jordan’s nuclear ambitions, specifically when it comes to having the ability to produce its own nuclear fuel, which given the discovery of vasts uranium deposits, it can potentially do and will make the project feasible to implement in the long run. How far ahead Jordan is with regards to the nuclear program is a bit ambiguous, but judging by the constant announcements of new nuclear technology deals with foreign companies, as well as agreements with various nations, it’s same to assume the country is on the fast track. And with Khaled Toukan at the helm, I have no doubt that it will be an ambition realized – that is of course unless Israel and the US put an abrupt stop to it.
While I am not the biggest advocate of nuclear energy I do realize its vital role as part of the Kingdom’s energy mix in a country with a growing population and scarce resources. Moreover, mining uranium and producing nuclear energy would likely see Jordan become a major energy exporter in the region. Yet, in this region, energy and resources are, as they have always been, highly politicized, and for a country like Jordan, one can easily imagine the extent to which its energy policy can be influenced by, if not dictated by, foreign powers that include none other than Israel and the US.
One can easily look to Israel’s influence and control over water resources, some of which historically belong to Jordan. In other words, there is precedent. In the case of water, such control is dictated through physical occupation, but when it comes to energy, Israel’s control can extend beyond its own borders. In a region where the word nuclear conjures images of a nuke-crazy Iran, the only nuclear power in the region, also known as Israel, has a lot of leverage on the international stage as it continuously demonstrates. Countries that Jordan needs on board to realize its ambitions could easily shift given a moment’s notice, as would the private companies that provide the necessary technology and that Israel already has ties to, and thus some influence over. Jordan has a few options should one or two doors be closed to it, but Israel does have a way of closing too many.
Moreover, with the Israel-Jordanian diplomatic relationship declining steadily, to say nothing of King Abdullah’s call in 2006 for Israel to disarm its nuclear weapons, it would come as no surprise if Israel successfully halted Jordan’s nuclear energy ambitions, or, at the very least, denied it its right to produce its own fuel, thus exercising control over what Jordan is allowed to do with the technology. Israel will likely lean heavily on the Obama administration to pull in the reigns on the project, and for a Kingdom so greatly dependent on foreign aid, it is difficult to say “no” in the short run, even if it means paying a premium in the long run energy-wise.
It is undoubtedly amazing to see a country dictate its neighbor’s energy future and the future of its 6 million inhabitants. And while I hope Jordan finds success with this project, I suspect the dream may be short-lived, or at least incredibly limited and rendered unfeasible for Jordan. Call me a cynic, but various realities are what determine the outcome and they are all too well known. The first sign of which way the wind will blow for Jordan will probably come in the form of the US-Jordan agreement and what it will entail, i.e. what the US will allow Jordan to do when it comes to nuclear energy.