In a report on the regional drug trade in the Middle East, Simona Foltyn of the PBS NewsHour shed light on the smuggling of Captagon, a relatively cheap amphetamine to produce that is being smuggled from Syria to Jordan and then to other richer Arab Gulf countries. The report, aired on Dec. 23, clarified how Syria became a major producer of Captagon, and how this is “sending ripple effects through the entire region” mainly affecting Syria’s southern neighbor, Jordan. And with Captagon tablets being sold for about $25 USD per pill in Saudi Arabia according to the report, it is easy to understand why Captagon smuggling has remained so persistent.
in the first eight months of 2022, “the Jordanian army recorded 170 smuggling attempts, a 50 percent increase compared to 2021″A Jordanian Official
The report described Jordan’s northern border with Syria as “the new front line in the war on the regional drug trade,” stressing that “Jordanian armed forces, with support from the U.S., are trying to stop the tide of drugs inundating the Middle East. On the other side, drug cartels backed by the Syrian government are fuelling the trade.”
The report quoted a Jordanian official as saying that in the first eight months of 2022, “the Jordanian army recorded 170 smuggling attempts, a 50 percent increase compared to 2021.”
“[they] have seen unprecedented hostility towards the Jordanian armed forces”A Jordanian Official
The official went on to say that in one of the operations, the smugglers “opened fire, killing a Jordanian officer, and prompting the army to change its rules of engagement, adopting a shoot-to-kill policy.”
Brig. Gen. Ahmed Khleifat told Foltyn that they “have seen unprecedented hostility towards the Jordanian armed forces,” adding that they “approach in big numbers and divide themselves into groups. Some groups are distracting the border guards. Others open fire to offer cover to those attempting to cross, while the last group is in charge of smuggling the contraband inside Jordan.”
The report emphasized that the “drug cartels operate under the protection of the Syrian government,” providing the Assad regime’s senior officials with “an alternative income stream as the U.S. imposed sweeping sanctions in 2020.”
at the top of the list of officials responsible for the trafficking operations was most likely the brother of the head of the regime, Maher AssadPBS NewsHour Report
The report also said that at the top of the list of officials responsible for the trafficking operations was most likely the brother of the head of the regime, Maher Assad, and his Fourth Division of the Syrian army and that he “reportedly provides the logistical backbone and protection for the drug trade, much to the frustration of the Jordanians, who had hoped to restore cooperation after the Syrian army retook control of the Southern border.”
These operations come even after Jordan and Syria “exchanged diplomatic visits and reopened borders, but the influx of drugs continued, including through the official border crossing.”
The Jaber border crossing reopened in 2018 as part of efforts to normalize ties between Jordan and Syria and to boost economic activity, the report noted, but “border security remains a thorny issue between the two sides,” and at the end of the day, “the opening of the border has increased the burden” on Jordan to curb the flow of drugs coming into the country from Syria.
“Customs officials carry out intensive searches on both passenger and commercial vehicles coming into Jordan using sniffer dogs, X-rays, and manual checks. All cargo is off-loaded, crates unpacked, the fabric cover of this sofa removed to check if drugs might be hidden inside…” the report explained.
Although it is true that the bulk of the amphetamines is heading to wealthier Gulf markets, there are warning signs that it is increasingly finding its way onto the streets of Jordan itself, the report said.