How Iran turned Syria into ‘the den of Captagon
Everyone who visited Syria before the war saw banners reading “Assad’s Den,” “Syria’s Assad” and other slogans that aimed to show the strength of the regime and the transformation of everything in the country under the control of the Assad family.
This was the image that the Syrian regime wanted to present of the country to the extent that it turned into a kind of identity that defined Syria internally, before externally.
But after the outbreak of the war, Syria’s identity gradually became linked to destruction, killings and war crimes, the last of which involved drugs. The Syrian regime and some extremist groups used drugs to motivate fighters, getting them addicted to a drug called Captagon. This in turn made them addicted to fighting.
Some started calling Syria the “Captagon Republic,” “the Captagon Empire” or the “drug state.”
During the decade-long war, Syria’s infrastructure and economy have been destroyed and financial flows into the country from Assad’s allies — mainly Iran — have stopped due to the reduced risk of the regime being overthrown militarily. The regime found itself short of funds. Its options became limited to developing a new industry, with the support of Iran, and transforming it to attract money at the lowest possible cost.
Cooperation emerged between a group of Iranian militias and their allies, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, and some leaders of the Syrian army and the forces affiliated with it. This cooperation focused on producing the cheapest types of drugs in the world and smuggling them at a limited cost out of Syria (in several directions), with the possibility of even crossing the Mediterranean toward Europe.
The drug smuggling was not only for financial purposes, but also to threaten “enemy countries,” as seen by the Assad regime.
The fact that the drug smuggling did not even stop at the borders of countries that have established diplomatic ties with Damascus is evidence of the malicious mentality of this regime, which is financially driven and does not hesitate to take revenge for past indiscretions.
Some of those who were in the regime’s ranks before recently defecting believe there has been a disintegration in its ability to make centralized decisions. According to them, some militias that are loyal to Iran will not comply with any of the regime’s demands to stop smuggling drugs into certain countries that it does not want to disturb.
However, given the conflict within regime components, be they military or paramilitary groups or Iran and its loyalists, the continuation of Syrian drug smuggling will be random and not limited to any market.
Regardless of the regime’s Captagon smuggling goals — whether to raise financial resources or to threaten other countries — the dangers of this substance, which is technically known as fenethylline and is an enhanced version of amphetamine, are enhanced by the fact that it is manufactured in small, primitive factories. This may further contribute to the unprecedented harm caused to the users and the communities targeted by the Syrian regime.
The drug smuggling was not only for financial purposes, but also to threaten ‘enemy countries,’ as seen by the Assad regime
The Syrian regime benefits from Lebanon’s production and smuggling operations, especially in areas under the control of Hezbollah. This has reflected badly on the reputation of Lebanese products due to the fear that these drugs could be hidden in their packaging before being exported to all international and regional markets.
During the war on Daesh, the Syrian regime claimed that such terrorist organizations were the ones who produced and smuggled these drugs, but after Daesh was eliminated, Syria’s Captagon smuggling operations flourished. This indicates that the Syrian regime acts similarly to those terrorist organizations by relying on producing drugs, but it does it to a greater degree and across a wider geographical scope that transcends the borders of the country.
The regime depends on businessmen, whether Iranian, Lebanese or Iraqi nationals, in addition to Syrians, to import the raw materials needed for the manufacture of Captagon, along with what is available locally.
The regime has made sure that all production takes place in small factories located in the east and south of the country and on the coast to facilitate relocation in the case of detection or monitoring. At the same time, this offers ease of access to the borders with neighboring countries and allows the drugs to be smuggled without control.
Looking at the methods of production and smuggling, it appears that there is a mechanism to transform the drug industry into the most crucial Syrian export, achieving profits ranging from $6 billion to $8 billion annually, which go directly to the regime and its Iranian partners.
The current Syrian economic situation does not give any impression that the regime has any other product that could generate such income. This indicates the likely continuation of this industry and the related smuggling operations without limit or time frame.
It seems that Syria, which has for years been known for its war and destruction, its repressive regime and its record of war crimes, has transformed from what used to be called “Assad’s den” into “the den of Captagon.”
I have been informed by European sources that the Captagon pills that have reached Greece, France and even Germany — the country that first manufactured these pills as medicine in the early 1960s before they were banned throughout the world in 1986 — came from the trio of Syria, Iran and Lebanon.
It seems difficult to expect any resolution to the regime’s drug business in Syria and abroad.
Syria’s trade and smuggling of Captagon is no longer about ordinary drugs, but rather a weapon that threatens the safety, security and stability of regional and international communities. Therefore, the industry should be placed on international sanctions lists as a matter of urgency.
• Ghassan Ibrahim is a British-Syrian journalist and researcher on issues regarding the Middle East, most notably Turkey, Syria, and Iran. He can be reached at www.ghassanibrahim.com.