KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES' MIDDLE EAST STYLE
By Micah Halpern
Tuesday November 25, 2008
In the past year the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, ruled by King Abdullah son of Hussein, signed nuclear agreements with the United States, with Russia, with Great Britain, with France and with South Korea. They also initialed a set of understandings with China.
That set of understanding has now turned into a treaty. China and Jordan have just signed a nuclear treaty. Of all the treaties entered into by Jordan, the one that most interests me, the one that most reverberates throughout the Middle East, the one that most impacts the world, is the treaty with China.
Predicting what will happen next in the Middle East is one of the trickiest games ever played in the foreign policy arena. But careful observation of Jordan, monitoring what Abdullah considers to be important and what he considers inconsequential, tracking those colleagues with whom he has conversations and those whom he snubs, is one of the most precise ways to determine the future of the Middle East region and one of the best guides to be used in shaping Middle East policy.
Under Hussein, Jordan was a significant player in the Middle East. Always hosting, always promoting. The former leader of the Hashemite Kingdom took some bold steps and brought his country into the big leagues, into league with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The apple has not fallen far from the tree. Abdullah has continued to maintain the stature of Jordan in the Arab and Muslim world, maintaining order even while he brings about change in Jordan. With this latest move the Jordanian monarch and benevolent despot is planning for the future.
King Abdullah has seen the path toward nuclear capability burgeon in the Middle East and he has decided not to let his own influential, but small, country linger on the sidelines. That is why Jordan signed on with China. According to the treaty these two unlikely partners have signed, China will train the Jordanians in nuclear technology, China will help Jordan build an experimental nuclear reactor and finally, China will teach Jordanians how to mine for the Uranium that already exists in at least two spots in Jordan.
In other words, China will prepare Jordan for what King Abdullah perceives to be the inevitable future - a nuclear, trigger happy, Iran.
Jordan may not border Iran, but Jordan is still threatened by Iran. Iran threatens every nation in the Middle East. Iran threatens even non-democratic, non-Western nations. The Middle East is no longer about a conflict between Israelis and Muslims. The Middle East is a bigger conflict, it is about Muslims and Muslims, it is about Shiites and Sunnis.
Iran is struggling to get nuclear technology and so the rest of the Middle East must struggle to keep up with Iran, knowing that they can never get ahead of Iran. It is a case of keeping up with the Jones', Middle East style. When it comes to nuclear affairs, Iran has set the agenda for the Middle East and hence, for the world.
The big powers in the Arab world need to respond to Iran's nuclear acquisition now. Saudi Arabia and Egypt and now Jordan need to be prepared. Following the lead of the major players are some smaller countries, like Yemen, which has also begun the process of developing nuclear technology. Other countries are sure to follow and that is not mere prediction, it is a reality. Iranian expectations have caused a spiral effect in the Middle East region. The balance of power will be shifted and then re-shifted and re-shifted again after Iran attains nuclear superiority in the region.
Sunni Jordan realizes that there will be a time when they will have to shoot out of the blocks to maintain a sense of parity against Shiite Iran. Egypt will do the same. So will Saudi Arabia. Ironically, the big winners in this Middle East race towards nuclear technology and capability will not come from the Middle East region. The big winners will be China and Russia. It is China and Russia who are supplying the countries of the Middle East with the technology and information they need and lack. And in the end both China and Russia will be uniquely qualified to determine the assets of each of the player countries. China and Russia will know which buttons to push, literally and figuratively, because they are the countries to have installed them.
The world is changing. Allegiances are changing. Change is not always for the best.
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