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.

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Read more at Spectator

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

 

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy