The first was the sheer difficulty of grasping that the story was not the figment of someone's imagination but was actually happening.

We had come to get a look at a "synchrotron" facility called Sesame - at its heart, a particle accelerator not unlike Europe's Cern - coming together in Jordan. A news story on the Sesame project explains the science it aims to do, but that is not the striking thing about it.

On the scale of surprises that take a very long while to sink in, Sesame is off the scale: common sense would scream at you that it just should not be feasible.

At first sight the project to build a shared research centre in the Middle East sounds like a far-fetched and wholly unrealistic fantasy of the kind John Lennon conjured up in "Imagine…"

The scenario goes as follows: take one of the world's most unstable regions, pick some of the countries that are most violently opposed to each other and then bring them together under one roof to do science.

An extraordinarily bold idea to plant a world-class science facility - a synchrotron light source - in the heart of the Middle East for researchers from anywhere from Cairo to Tel Aviv to Tehran”

The list of countries involved looks utterly improbable: it includes Jordan, Turkey, Bahrain and Egypt - so far so normal. But then add Iran and - amazingly - Israel too.