With its economy ravaged by civil war, Syria has become a center of production of Captagon, a powerful and addictive stimulant used by fighters to remain alert during long operations, and by partygoers to fuel long nights of revelry. Hizballah has partnered with the Assad regime in its Captagon trade—worth about $1 billion a year—which has begun to spill over into Lebanon. In a blow to that country’s faltering economy, Saudi Arabia recently banned produce imports from Lebanon because so many shipments were used to hide illegal drugs. Baria Alamuddin writes:
Hizballah has resorted to diverting illegal shipments [of drugs] to obscure the country of origin, . . . exploiting its connections with the worldwide Lebanese diaspora. West Africa has become a preferred option. . . . This isn’t the first time Hizballah has embroiled West Africa’s Lebanese communities in the narcotics trade. . . . West African states such as Guinea, Togo, the Congo, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone, have played pivotal roles in Hizballah operations, involving money laundering, weapons proliferation, drugs, and organized crime.
One 2021 calculation suggests that this activity nets the group about $1 billion a year, probably in the same ballpark as the stipends Hizballah receives from Iran. With the annual worldwide narcotics trade worth about $500 billion, this could be a gross underestimate. As Lebanon’s economy continues its remorseless slide, the day may come soon when this Hizballah black economy comes to dominate Lebanon’s markets, with the risk that country permanently descends into being a narco-state.
The consequences of Hizballah provoking a ban on exports of Lebanese agricultural produce to major regional markets are massive, and will ruin the lives of farmers who, like most citizens, have been devastated by economic disintegration and the collapse in the currency’s value. Just as in Afghanistan, impoverished farmers turned to growing heroin, which bankrolled the Taliban’s return to power; it is as if Hizballah is doing everything in its power to transform Lebanon into an economy based on the wares of death. The high-profile visit to Beirut by the Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian is a reminder of how Lebanon’s embroilment in Tehran’s economic orbit means embracing pariah statehood.