Hizballah Is Dragging Lebanon—and West Africa—into the Syrian Drug Trade

Oct. 12 2021

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.

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Read more at Arab News

More about: Africa, Drugs, Hizballah, Iran, Lebanon, Syrian civil war

 

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine