Israel and Jordan Should Cooperate to Stop Syria’s Deadly Drug Trade

February 16, 2023 | Natalie Ecanow
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A powerful, dangerous, and addictive stimulant popular among Islamic State fighters and Gulf state partygoers, Captagon has in recent years become the major export of war-torn Syria. Last month, Israel caught smugglers trying to bring a large amount of the drug into its borders. Jordan, meanwhile—after largely restoring diplomatic and commercial relations with Damascus to their pre-civil-war state—has become one of the major markets for the pills, with socially deleterious results. Natalie Ecanow explores the dangers, and what can be done:

Regional seizure data from 2021 valued the Captagon trade at over $5.7 billion, eclipsing the total value of Syria’s legal exports combined. The profits are pumped straight into the coffers of Bashar al-Assad and his cronies, providing a financial lifeline to an otherwise economically moribund regime. According to the former U.S. special envoy for Syria, “the Assad regime would not survive the loss of the Captagon revenues.”

Rather than normalizing [relations] with the region’s biggest drug pusher, Washington should make clear that regional cooperation in countering narcotics is a better approach. The administration can leverage the structures of the Abraham Accords to develop a regional strategy for combatting the Captagon trade and expand the partnership between Israel and the Gulf. This could include establishing processes for law enforcement to exchange information outside of INTERPOL, which Syria rejoined in 2021. Jordan’s International Police Training Center can house a multilateral interdiction center to help provide real-time information on smuggling operations.

The shared threat of Captagon also gives Israel and Jordan reason to [breathe some life into] their often cold and tenuous peace. And, as policymakers anticipate bringing Saudi Arabia into the Abraham Accords, Washington should remind the region that Jerusalem and Riyadh both care deeply about the stability of Jordan, which the Assad-linked narcotics trade threatens to undermine.

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