Enhancing capacities to prevent the trafficking of radiological and nuclear material in the Middle East
On 29-30 March 2022, UNICRI held the “Final event and Regional Radiological and Nuclear (RN) Detection and Response Table-Top Exercise” with the participation of the State authorities in charge of countering radiological and nuclear (RN) trafficking in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. The event was conducted within the framework of the project CONTACT – Enhancing capacities to prevent the trafficking of radiological and nuclear material in the Middle East, funded by Global Affairs Canada. The organization of the event was facilitated by the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) National Focal Points together with the Focal Points of the project CONTACT: Dr. Riad Al-Tamimi for the Republic of Iraq; Colonel Saleh Al-Sheyyab and Dr. Samer Al Qur’an for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; and Dr. Bilal Nsouli and Dr. Rana Baydoun for the Republic of Lebanon. As the last activity in the CONTACT Middle East project, this event represented a unique opportunity for UNICRI, partner countries, experts and donors to review the project outcomes and discuss potential future steps to further strengthen the RN security in the region.
Over the course of the two-day meeting, participants engaged in a regional table-top exercise (TTX) on countering RN trafficking with the purpose of enhancing the preparedness of participating countries to detect and respond to RN security incidents in the region; promoting inter-agency coordination across national RN stakeholders; and fostering regional cooperation between participating countries in the field of RN security.
In addition, participants exchanged best practices and lessons learned with a focus on the three countries’ experience throughout the CONTACT project. This included discussions on the project impact and outcomes, the establishment of inter-agency national teams, and fostering regional cooperation in the field of RN security. Moreover, partner countries identified the next steps with regard to the sustainability of the project outcomes as well as their future planned RN activities at the national and regional levels.
“The TTX exercise was an excellent opportunity for exchanging information on the different mandates of national agencies working in the field of RN trafficking. In addition, the entire event is another successful milestone for the CONTACT Middle East project which paved the way for fostering regional cooperation to improve capabilities related to preventing RN trafficking in the Middle East”, said Dr. Riad Al-Tamimi CBRN National Focal Point from the Iraqi National Monitoring Authority for non-proliferation (INMA).
Colonel Saleh Al-Sheyyab CBRN National Focal point, from the National Center for Security and Crises Management (NCSCM) commented: “The CONTACT Middle East project is an important milestone in the field of RN security in the Middle East. At the national level, the Jordanian participating agencies have achieved important results in terms of inter-agency coordination and building the capabilities of the law enforcement and RN regulatory officers. We wouldn’t have been able to achieve these without the constant support provided by all project stakeholders and their willingness to cooperate and coordinate. Jordan had the pleasure of hosting this final event in-person and we will continue to provide support as needed in future activities”.
Dr. Rana Baydoun, Researcher and National Emergency Officer at the Environmental and Border Radiation Control Department at the Lebanese Atomic Energy Commission (LAEC), and the Lebanese focal point for the project CONTACT, also added that “We are pleased with the outcome of the event and the entire CONTACT Middle East project and with discussing the future roadmap with our counterparts. Lebanon is looking forward to taking stock of what has been achieved in this phase of the project to establish a sustainable national training program on preventing trafficking in RN materials. And for this we thank our counterparts in Iraq and Jordan for the exchange of best practices and lessons learned throughout the project as well as UNICRI and Global Affairs Canada for the opportunity of being part of this important project”.
Ms. Julia Gibson, Project Leader, Nuclear and Radiological Security, at Global Affairs Canada’s Weapons Threat Reduction Program, mentioned that: “The past two days have reflected the level of engagement, application of lessons learned, and spirit of collaboration from all of the participants. Canada has been proud to support this effort to build capacity in the region to counter nuclear and radiological smuggling through intelligence-led operations. Congratulations to UNICRI, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon on the accomplishments under this CONTACT project, in particular the strong outcomes stemming from this final event!”
From his side, Mr. Francesco Marelli, Head of Programme, CBRN Risk Mitigation and Security Governance, added: “We are pleased to have worked closely with our partner countries Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon within the framework of the CONTACT Middle East process, to assist in enhancing national and regional capabilities to combat RN trafficking in the region. We are truly inspired by the unwavering levels of commitment and determination demonstrated by partner countries throughout the different phases of the project. Today in the final event, we see the excellent outcome for the huge effort that was put into implementing different project activities despite the COVID-19 related challenges and travel restrictions. We congratulate our partner countries for reaching this stage and we will continue to support their future endeavors in the area of RN security to the best that we can”.
This event is the third and final in a series of regional events to be conducted under the umbrella of the CONTACT project third and final Work Package focused on regional cooperation.
CONTACT is the first project in the Middle East that focuses on intelligence operations to counter RN illicit trafficking. Previous international projects have focused on the provision and use of radiation detection equipment to identify illicit trafficking. However, the “human factor” is of equal importance, as demonstrated by the fact that most successful seizures of radiological and nuclear material is attributable to soundly planned and executed intelligence operations.
Within the framework of the project CONTACT, UNICRI worked with countries in the Middle East to share good practices and reinforce capabilities to effectively and carefully plan intelligence and law enforcement operations as well as the exchange of information at the national, regional and international level.