War turned Syria’s regime into a ‘narco-state’ smuggling drugs to Gulf, says expert

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Updated 02 September 2022

War turned Syria’s regime into a ‘narco-state’ smuggling drugs to Gulf, says expert

War turned Syria’s regime into a ‘narco-state’ smuggling drugs to Gulf, says expert
  • Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister said the Assad regime made $30bn from the illegal trade last year and only $800m from legitimate exports
  • This is a narco-state in the heart of the Middle East … that has enormous significance for regional stability,’ he said

CHICAGO: Although President Bashar Assad continues to survive the civil war that has gripped Syria since 2011, he controls only 60 percent of the country and his regime’s largest source of revenue is now drug trafficking, according to an expert on the nation’s geopolitical history.

Charles Lister, a senior fellow and director of the Syria and Countering Terrorism and Extremism programs at the Middle East Institute, told the Ray Hanania Radio Show on Wednesday that for the past several years the Syrian regime has turned to the distribution of Captagon, a methamphetamine-based drug often referred to as “the poor man’s cocaine,” as its main source of export revenue.

He described Syria as a “narco-state” that in 2021 generated more than $30 billion from the illegal distribution of the drug, mainly in the Gulf region. This compares with only $800 million a year from legitimate exports, he added.

“As a result of the crisis in Syria, and the fact that it has sustained for so long, the Syrian regime has now become a narco-state of global significance, an issue that almost never reaches our TV screens and our newspapers,” said Lister.

“But last year, 2021, the Syrian regime, in a series of factories across the country run mostly by the (Syrian Army’s) 4th (Armored) Division, which is run by Bashar Assad’s brother, Maher, exported roughly $30 billion of methamphetamine, called Captagon, mostly around the Middle East. $30 billion.

“To put that number into perspective, the legal exports of Syria that same year were worth $800 million. So the drug industry, an illegal drug industry run by the regime, is now literally the only element of importance of the Syrian economy.

“This is a narco-state in the heart of the Middle East exporting drugs mostly to the Gulf, that has enormous significance for regional stability. The Europeans are beginning to get worried about it reaching their shores. Several ports in Africa have seized Syrian-made Captagon over the past couple of years.”

Just this week, Saudi authorities seized narcotics with a street value of up to $1 billion and arrested eight expatriates in what is believed to be the Kingdom’s largest-known smuggling attempt and biggest-ever drug bust.

Officers found 47 million amphetamine pills hidden in a shipment of flour during a raid on a warehouse in Riyadh, the Saudi Press Agency reported. The drugs have an estimated street value of between $470 million and more than $1 billion, based on figures cited in the International Addiction Review journal.

Six Syrians and two Pakistanis were arrested, Maj. Mohammed Al-Najidi, a spokesperson for the Saudi Narcotics Control, told the SPA.

Syria is effectively partitioned and controlled by several major geopolitical powers. Russia and the Syrian regime controls about 60 percent of the country, including the central spine and western regions. The US and its partners control about 30 percent of the country in north east and east. Turkey and its opposition partners occupy between 9 and 12 percent of the north and northwest of the country.

One of the biggest benefactors of the Syrian crisis is Iran, which Lister said uses areas controlled by the Syrian regime as distribution points for weapons Tehran supplies to its partner militias that target Western and Israeli forces.

“Iran is a whole different story,” he explained. “Iran is not calling all of the shots in Syria but ever since the 1979 revolution it has sought to establish this channel of influence from Tehran all the way to the Mediterranean, through to Israel and Palestine. And that, unquestionably, is what they have managed to achieve.

“In Syria, that is arguably the most strategic kind of jewel in the crown for this Iranian regional strategy. And that is precisely why we see Israel conducting these quite significant series of air strikes over recent years, targeting anything from ballistic missiles, precision-guidance technology and air-defense systems that Iran has flown in, often using its state aircraft carriers, into Damascus International Airport.

“And they have sought to truck those across the border into Lebanon. Or station them in Syria, pointed directly at Israel. For Iran, it is of absolutely enormous significance and they have arguably achieved what they needed to.”

The complex international entanglements in Syria, including the Iranian and Russian presence, means there is no immediate prospect of an end to a conflict, Lister said, in which there have been dramatic flareups, such as when Daesh struck American targets and the US responded by sending in war planes.

“Syria’s crisis is a long way from over,” he explained. “There are multiple conflicts going on in the country, not just one. And all of the root causes that gave way to the uprising and crisis in 2011, all those root causes are still there today. Most of those root causes are worse today than they were in 2011.

“Over the years, Syria’s crisis deteriorated and escalated to such an extent, and also became so complicated, that various international actors have intervened in pursuit of their own interests over the years and I think, as a result, really Syria is best described now as a geopolitical conflict. There are the Turks, there are the Iranians, the Russians, of course the Syrian government, the Israelis, the global coalition against ISIS,” he added, using another term for the terrorist group Daesh.

“And within that there is a whole variety of different terrorist organizations, as well as the opposition, the Kurds, and the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) that have backed and been our partners in the fight against ISIS. It has been an incredibly complicated crisis. At its core, it is a crisis and there are lots of layers to that.”

During the past two years, Israel has conducted at least 200 sets of air strikes on territory held by the Syrian regime, Lister said.

The regional divisions in the country have resulted in a de facto stalemate of violence and simmering tensions, he added. If there were not so many major geopolitical players involved, he suggested, the conflict might have been resolved long ago.

“If there was one (major) player, we would have seen Syria’s crisis resolved, one way or the other,” Lister said. “We would have seen it resolved through a victory over one side or the other, or through some kind of negotiated settlement.

“In reality, there is no player that holds all of the cards and that is precisely why, more than 11 years later, this crisis is still going on and all of those roots causes haven’t been resolved.

“Ultimately, I think the Russians have probably changed the dynamic imbalance in Syria the most of everyone. When they intervened in 2015, the regime was on the verge of collapse and implosion and the Russians unquestionably reversed that and put the regime back into a position of advantage. But they have clearly failed to ‘win’ the conflict in the years that have followed and that is why we are in this geopolitical stalemate.”

Lister appeared on The Ray Hanania Radio Show on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. It is broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit and Washington D.C. and rebroadcast in Chicago on Thursdays. You can listen to the entire radio show podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow or any major podcast provider.

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.

Russian strikes in Syria decreased since Ukraine war: monitor

Russian strikes in Syria decreased since Ukraine war: monitor
Updated 8 sec ago

Russian strikes in Syria decreased since Ukraine war: monitor

Russian strikes in Syria decreased since Ukraine war: monitor
BEIRUT: Russian strikes in Syria have decreased since it invaded Ukraine, resulting in fewer deaths, a war monitor said Friday, seven years into Moscow’s intervention in the Middle Eastern country.
A total of 241 people have been killed by Russian strikes in Syria during the past year, mostly fighters from the Daesh group but also including 28 civilians, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
That marked the lowest annual death toll since Russia launched its strikes in Syria in support of the government of President Bashar Assad on September 30, 2015.
“Russia’s role has generally declined in Syria since the start of the war on Ukraine” in late February, said the Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources on the ground in Syria.
This led to a “significant decline in its strikes on the Syrian desert” where Russia has been targeting IS jihadists, the Observatory said.
Moscow has been among the top political, economic and military backers of the government in Damascus since the start of the conflict in Syria in March 2011.
Its military intervention was crucial in turning the tide for Assad and lending him the upper hand in the conflict after his forces had lost large swathes of territory to rebel and jihadist groups.
The Observatory has put the death toll from the Russian strikes throughout seven years at more than 21,000 — including 8,697 civilians, a quarter of whom were children.
Almost half a million people have been killed, with millions more displaced and large swathes of the country devastated during the conflict.

Bahrain and Japan Foreign Ministers set sights on closer economic and business ties

Bahrain and Japan Foreign Ministers set sights on closer economic and business ties
Updated 30 September 2022

Bahrain and Japan Foreign Ministers set sights on closer economic and business ties

Bahrain and Japan Foreign Ministers set sights on closer economic and business ties

TOKYO: Japan Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi held a meeting with his Bahraini counterpart, Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, on Thursday and stated that he hopes that the relationship between the two countries will become closer in areas such as economy and business, based on the Japan-Bahrain Investment Agreement and other agreements.

Minister Zayani concurred with his statement and said he was pleased to see the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Bahrain.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry reported that the two ministers noted the upcoming resumption of visa-free travel from Bahrain to Japan, which had been suspended during the pandemic, and confirmed the early introduction of visa waiver measures for Bahraini diplomatic and official passport holders.

The ministers exchanged views on the situation in Ukraine and confirmed that it is essential for the international community to cooperate to ensure that Russia ends its aggression in Ukraine as soon as possible. They also agreed on the need for United Nations reform, including that of the United Nations Security Council.

Hayashi expressed his appreciation for the visit by Minister Zayani to Japan to attend the State Funeral for Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Minister Zayani, expressed his heartfelt condolences on the demise of the former Prime Minister, stating that he was a great leader and left a significant diplomatic legacy, according to the foreign ministry in Tokyo.

• This article originally appeared on Arab News Japan.

Tehran regime faces international isolation as protests spread abroad

Tehran regime faces international isolation as protests spread abroad
Updated 30 September 2022

Tehran regime faces international isolation as protests spread abroad

Tehran regime faces international isolation as protests spread abroad
  • At least 76 people have been killed in Iran’s violent crackdown on the protests
  • Taliban disperse demo in Kabul, clashes at embassy in Oslo, threat of new EU sanctions

JEDDAH: The Tehran regime faced growing international isolation on Thursday as a wave of unrest inside Iran spread across borders. 

In Afghanistan, Taliban forces fired shots into the air to disperse a women’s rally in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul in support of the protests in Iran. 

Afghan women rally in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul on September 29, 2022 in a sympathy protest for Mahsa Amini. (AFP)

Demonstrators carried banners that read: “Iran has risen, now it’s our turn” and “From Kabul to Iran, say no to dictatorship,” and chanted the “Women, life, freedom” mantra used in Iran. Taliban forces snatched the banners and tore them in front of the protesters. 

One of the protest organizers said it was staged “to show our support and solidarity with the people of Iran and the women victims of the Taliban in Afghanistan.” 

In Norway, two people were injured and 90 were arrested in clashes at a demonstration in front of the Iranian embassy in Oslo. Several dozen protesters, some draped in the Kurdish flag, tried to break into the embassy compound. 

Norwegian police restrain activists protesting outside Iran's embassy in Oslo on Sept. 29, 2022. (AFP)

The demonstration came a day after Iran launched missile and drone strikes that killed 13 people in Iraqi Kurdistan. Tehran accuses Kurdish dissidents there of fueling two weeks of protests in Iran, which began when 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini died in morality police custody. 

Amini had been on a visit to Tehran with her family when she was arrested and accused of wearing her hijab with “insufficient modesty.” 

At least 76 people have been killed in Iran’s violent crackdown on the protests, with security forces using tear gas, batons, birdshot and live ammunition. 

Germany’s foreign minister on Thursday urged the EU to impose further sanctions on Iran because of its treatment of protesters.

“The Iranian authorities must immediately end their brutal treatment of demonstrators,” Annalena Baerbock told the German parliament.

Activists protest in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, on September 28, 2022, against the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran. (Reuters)

She said she would do everything within the EU framework to impose sanctions against those responsible for oppressing women in Iran.

France’s Foreign Ministry has said it would back sanctions as a response to “new massive abuses on women’s rights and human rights in Iran.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc would “consider all the options at its disposal ... to address the killing of Mahsa Amini and the way Iranian security forces have responded to the ensuing demonstrations.”

Inside Iran, the regime warned prominent sports and entertainment figures against any further support of the protests. “We will take action against the celebrities who have fanned the flames of the riots,” Tehran provincial governor Mohsen Mansouri said.

Former TV host Mahmoud Shahriari has already been arrested for “encouraging riots and solidarity with the enemy,” and Oscar-winning film director Asghar Farhadi urged people to “stand in solidarity” with the protesters.

“They are looking for simple yet fundamental rights that the state has denied them,” he said.


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Abu Dhabi prepares to host ‘first-of-its-kind’ Parenthood: The Unconference

Abu Dhabi prepares to host ‘first-of-its-kind’ Parenthood: The Unconference
Updated 30 September 2022

Abu Dhabi prepares to host ‘first-of-its-kind’ Parenthood: The Unconference

Abu Dhabi prepares to host ‘first-of-its-kind’ Parenthood: The Unconference
  • The event will cover all stages of parenting with the aim of redefining and elevating the critical role parents and the extended family play in raising healthy, thriving children
  • ‘Parental support influences children’s levels of confidence and motivation and plays a huge role in their interest in school,’ said Sara Awad Issa Musallam, Emirati minister for early education

ABU DHABI: Parenthood: The Unconference, an event organized by Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge and said to be the first of its kind in the world, will take place at Etihad Arena on Yas Island from Nov. 2 to Nov. 4, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

ADEK said it forms part of its larger mission to prioritize and enhance parental engagement and involvement with the aim of improving children’s success. As such, the event aims to redefine and elevate the critical role that parents, and the wider family unit, play in raising healthy and thriving children.

The goal of Parenthood: The Unconference, organizers said, is to encourage global dialogue to help better equip parents to face new and critical challenges in a world where traditional guideposts have vanished and the old rules no longer apply.

It will provide visitors with new learning opportunities to help them improve as individuals, spouses and caregivers through a comprehensive program that covers all stages of parenting, from early childhood to adolescence. The event will focus on five themes in particular: identity, new perspectives, development, well-being, and early childhood.

“The launch of Parenthood: The Unconference in Abu Dhabi underscores the commitment of our leadership to improving the state of education, with a focus on future generations,” said Sara Awad Issa Musallam, minister of state for early education.

“To achieve this, we cannot overlook the essential role of parents and their extended support circles — the aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends who become part of the family — because it really does take a village to raise a child.

“Parental support influences children’s levels of confidence and motivation and plays a huge role in their interest in school and their pursuit of goals. That is why we champion parental engagement to ensure it is an integral part of education-improvement efforts for all learners.”

Musallam said that the event aims to encourage an “important global conversation that seeks to enhance the positive relationship between schools, parents and students.” To achieve this it will gather some of the world’s foremost experts to share and discuss the latest views on child development and parenting.

“It’s an opportunity to connect, exchange and learn from each other,” said Musallam. “By impacting current and future parenting practices, we hope to generate opportunities for a future in which children everywhere thrive and interact positively with the world around them.”

According to UNICEF, which is supporting and participating in the event as an official knowledge partner, positive parenting and family support are critical factors in giving children the best possible start in life, as they lay the groundwork for healthy development, lifelong learning and social cohesion.

Organizers said that over the course of three highly interactive days, Parenthood: The Unconference will offer an unprecedented opportunity to learn from more than 60 leading experts through a series of engaging information sessions, keynote talks, panel discussions, immersive experiences, hands-on workshops, and networking opportunities.

Among the featured speakers is Dr. Shefali Tsabary, a prominent clinical psychologist and Oprah-endorsed parenting expert. She is also a three-time New York Times bestselling author, whose integration of Western psychology with Eastern philosophy is said to offer a ground-breaking approach to mindful living and parenting.

Al-Azhar’s grand imam to attend Bahrain forum alongside Pope Francis

Al-Azhar’s grand imam to attend Bahrain forum alongside Pope Francis
Updated 30 September 2022

Al-Azhar’s grand imam to attend Bahrain forum alongside Pope Francis

Al-Azhar’s grand imam to attend Bahrain forum alongside Pope Francis

CAIRO: Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, will participate from Nov. 3-4 alongside Pope Francis in the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence.

Sheikh Ahmed, the seniormost cleric at Al-Azhar and chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders, will travel to Bahrain on Nov. 3 following an invitation from Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa.

Over 200 religious figures from around the world representing all religions and sects will attend the forum.

Sheikh Ahmed and the pope last met in Kazakhstan earlier this month where they attended the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.

In April 2016, Sheikh Ahmed received King Hamad at Al-Azhar, where the king thanked Egypt’s highest seat of learning for supporting Bahrain’s unity and stability.

During his meeting with King Hamad, Sheikh Ahmed said that Bahrain was and will remain a melting pot of cultures and ideas.

At the invitation of King Hamad, Pope Francis will travel to Bahrain in November, which is home to the largest Catholic church on the Arabian Peninsula.

According to Vatican News, Pope Francis, 85, will be the first pope to visit the predominantly Muslim nation in the Arabian Gulf.