Inside the Drug Trade That Funds Iran’s Levantine Empire

Nov. 28 2022

Dubbed “captain courage” by some, the amphetamine Captagon became popular among Islamic State fighters along with other combatants in the Syrian civil war. Paul Wood investigates the major role this powerful stimulant plays in the economy of Bashar Assad’s Syria and, to a lesser-extent, that of Hizballah-dominated Lebanon—two countries that are clients of the Islamic Republic:

You might find Captagon fueling a party in Riyadh or keeping a Baghdad taxi driver awake through a double shift. It is, of course, illegal. And horribly addictive. It is said to be by far Syria’s biggest export, providing more than 90 percent of the country’s foreign currency. The Assad regime may be the world’s biggest narco state.

Much of [the revenue generated by Captagon sales] goes to the Syrian mukhabarat, or secret police; “the intelligence”; and the army’s 4th Division, led by President Assad’s brother, Maher. . . . It works the same way in Lebanon. [As drug dealer] has to pay off the local police, the mukhabarat, the intelligence services, and Hizballah, the Shiite militia that is controlled by Iran and which has fought for the Syrian regime.

The Assad regime’s involvement in Captagon is much, much bigger than just extorting smugglers. . . . Last year, $5.5-6 billion worth of Syrian Captagon was seized abroad. The total value of Syria’s legal exports is $800 million. But . . . the Captagon trade is at least five times what was seized, if not ten-to-twenty times bigger, given how easy it is to smuggle across borders in the Middle East. . . . By comparison, the total value of drugs exported to the U.S. by the Mexican cartels is thought to be $5-7.5 billion a year.

Read more at Spectator

More about: Drugs, Hizballah, Iran, Lebanon, Syria


How the U.S. Is Financing Bashar al-Assad

Due to a long history of supporting terrorism and having waged a brutal and devastating war on its own people, the Syrian regime is subject to numerous U.S. sanctions. But that doesn’t stop American tax dollars from going to President Bashar al-Assad and his cronies, via the United Nations. David Adesnik explains:

UN agencies have spent $95.5 million over the past eight years to house their staff at the Four Seasons Damascus, including $14.2 million last year. New Yorkers know good hotel rooms don’t come cheap, but the real problem in Damascus is that the Four Seasons’ owners are the Assad regime itself and one of the war profiteers who manages the regime’s finances.

The hotel would likely go under if not for UN business; Damascus is not a tourist destination these days. The UN claims keeping its staff at the Four Seasons is about keeping them safe. Yet there has been little fighting in Damascus since 2017. A former UN diplomat with experience in the Syrian capital told me the regime tells UN agencies it can only guarantee the safety of their staff if they stay at the Four Seasons.

What makes the Four Seasons debacle especially galling is that it’s been public knowledge for seven years, and the UN has done nothing about it—or the many other ways the regime siphons off aid for its own benefit. One of the most lucrative is manipulating exchange rates. . . . One of Washington’s top experts on humanitarian aid crunched the numbers and concluded the UN lost $100 million over eighteen months to this kind of rate-fixing.

What the United States and its allies should do is make clear to the UN they will turn off the spigot if the body doesn’t get its act together.

Read more at New York Post

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, United Nations