The US State Department in a report released on April 28 appears to have barely scratched the surface of the drug trade in Syria, writes Charles Lister in an article entitled “We cannot ignore Syria’s emergence as a narco-state” published on the website of the Middle East Institute.
“If a poll were taken on issues worthy of ongoing concern in Syria, challenges like ISIS, refugees, and humanitarian suffering would likely top the list. The drug trade, by contrast, would almost certainly be nowhere to be seen; it does not even register on the public radar. Behind this lack of attention, however, is a stark reality: Syria has emerged in recent years as a narco-state of regional and possibly global significance.”
Lister goes on to say that having “destroyed much of the country, crippled the national economy, and reduced itself to pariah status, Syria’s regime and core components of its security apparatus have fronted a secretive industrial complex for the manufacture of a popular amphetamine known as Captagon.”
“In 2020, at least $3.5 billion of Syria-made Captagon was seized by law enforcement authorities around the world — narcotics worth more than four times Syria’s legal annual exports ($800 million) that year,” the article goes on to say.
What is even more shocking is that the report cites two organized crime experts as saying the true scale of Syria’s drug exports that year was likely at least five times the amount seized — equivalent to $17.5 billion in 2020, or 22 times the nation’s total exports.
“In 2021, nearly $6 billion of Syria-made Captagon was seized abroad (making for an estimated yearly total trade of $30 billion), and in April 2022 alone, 25 million Captagon pills have been intercepted in countries in Syria’s immediate neighborhood, with a potential street value of as much as $500 million.”
“In Jordan, where much of Syria’s Captagon travels before heading to destinations in the Gulf, authorities say more drugs have been seized on the Syrian border in the first quarter of 2022 than in all of 2021.”
The article also gives an idea about the qualities of Captagon by stressing that in addition to the typical amphetamine effects, “Captagon pills can also contain chemicals that induce violent, psychotic behavior and are highly addictive, making them a frequent transition drug for even harder substances. The fact that Syria’s Captagon production and trade has grown exponentially in scale and reach in recent years should make it an issue of acute international concern.”
One of the most important points in the article is emphasizing that public investigations have linked Syria’s Captagon industry to a “long list of regime-linked businessman, including members of the Assad family — based mostly on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, as well as in the cities of Homs and Aleppo. At the top of the Captagon pyramid lies Bashar al-Assad’s brother Maher, who as head of the infamous Republican Guard and Fourth Division, is arguably the second most powerful man in Syria.”
“The extraordinary scale and security implications of Syria’s newfound status as a major narco-state is an open secret among policymakers working on Syria, but the issue barely registers when it comes to policymaking or public statements. There is a simple reason for this: Acknowledging the problem would create a political expectation for a solution to be developed — and that would necessitate direct, sustained, and aggressive action against Assad’s regime and Hezbollah.”
Lister concludes his piece by stressing that in an ideal world, policymakers in the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East “would like Syria to remain far off the radar and to become a self-contained problem that does not necessitate concern. But we do not live in an ideal world, and so long as the root causes of Syria’s crisis remain unaddressed, challenges to regional and international stability will continue. Ignoring the production and smuggling of tens of billions of dollars of drugs is a profoundly dangerous and immoral policy.”