Syrian drug trafficking a threat to the region

Syrian drug trafficking a threat to the region

The Syrian government must take firmer action and cooperate closely with other Arab leaders to tackle the threat of drugs (AFP)
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The dangerous rise in drug trafficking in Syria ought to be taken seriously because its devastating effects are likely to continue to escalate, not only for the Syrian people but also for other nations in the region. The Syrian government must take stronger action.

The devastating impact of the illicit drugs trade is not limited to those who become victims, use the banned substances and suffer emotional and physical damage. The users’ families, friends, coworkers and communities are likely to be negatively affected as well. Some of the negative impacts can be irreversible.

In addition, drug trafficking undermines the social, economic and political stability of countries and subsequently leads to a rise in other related crimes. This issue can become even more threatening, particularly in nations that have a large youth population.

The stance of Arab leaders has been crystal clear: The Syrian government should take action on the ongoing drug trade. According to Reuters, Arab leaders are seeking “a price for reengagement (with the Syrian government), notably a halt to the production and smuggling of the amphetamine Captagon, which the West and Arab states say is being exported around the region from Syria. Alongside the return of millions of refugees who fled Syria, the Captagon trade has become a big worry for Arab leaders.”

Millions of illicit pills have been smuggled from Syria into other Arab countries, including Jordan. Some illegal shipments have been intercepted by the Gulf nations, which appear to be one of the main targets of the drug traffickers. On Sunday, Saudi Arabian officials announced they had seized a huge amount of Captagon. It was reported that two people were arrested by Saudi authorities for hiding more than 2 million pills in boxes of baklava at the Jeddah Islamic Port.

The stance of Arab leaders has been crystal clear: The Syrian government should take action on the ongoing drug trade

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

A year ago, Saudi Arabia also seized 46 million amphetamine pills that were smuggled in a shipment of flour. Six Syrians and two Pakistanis were arrested after the drugs were seized in a raid on a warehouse in Riyadh. A spokesperson for the General Directorate of Narcotics Control pointed out that this was the “biggest operation of its kind to smuggle this amount of narcotics into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in one operation.”

Furthermore, in February, the UAE arrested a man as he tried to smuggle 4.5 million Captagon pills into the Gulf nation inside cans of green beans.

Also this week, the Jordanian military reported that it had downed a drone flying into Jordan while carrying crystal meth from Syria. Several meetings have been held between Jordanian and Syrian officials in order to address the illicit drug trade, but the issue has remained unresolved. Syrian President Bashar Assad and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi met in Damascus last month. Safadi was said to have discussed with Assad “the dangers posed by drug smuggling across the Syrian border into the kingdom, and the need for cooperation to confront it.”

Described by the media in terms such as “the amphetamine fueling Syria’s war” and “poor man’s cocaine,” Captagon is a synthetic amphetamine-type stimulant that is manufactured illegally, used recreationally and is highly addictive. Captagon is more destructive now than it was when previously produced several decades ago. According to, “instead of just two main ingredients, illegal manufacturing likely combines several highly addictive stimulants with compounding actions into one destructive little pill. This ‘new-age’ Captagon, as with any highly addictive substance, is likely to cause irreversible changes in brain circuitry that govern impulse control and judgment, taking away a person’s ability to reason or think rationally.”

This multibillion-dollar industry in Syria is reportedly worth nearly three times the combined trade of the Mexican cartels

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Syria, unfortunately, became a hub for the production of illicit drugs for several reasons. The civil war, a lack of security, the political vacuum, the economic crisis and the isolation of the country by the international community created a ripe environment for criminal groups to engage in the illicit economy and produce and smuggle illegal drugs into other countries. This multibillion-dollar industry in Syria is reportedly worth nearly three times the combined trade of the Mexican cartels. When it comes to Captagon, 80 percent of the world’s supply is produced in Syria.

Several steps can be taken in order to develop an effective strategy to stop the flow of illicit drugs from Syria into other countries. First of all, since Syria has been readmitted to the Arab League, Arab countries can pressure the Damascus government into cooperating with other nations in order to track down and dismantle the groups that are involved in the production and smuggling of illegal drugs. Incentives such as stronger economic ties and increased trade can be offered to the Syrian government if it takes firmer action to put an end to this problem.

Countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia have strong capabilities when it comes to law enforcement, intelligence and security. Syria ought to get involved in intelligence sharing with other governments as an effective way to address this threat. Another important issue is to disrupt the flow of funds to drug traffickers in Syria.

Collaboration between healthcare agencies and social services is critical as well. There should be a concerted effort to raise awareness about illicit drugs and the damage they cause via educational institutions and media outlets. Targeting the parts of the population that are at the highest risk of becoming victims of drug trafficking, such as the youth, is also vital. Finally, enhancing the security and economic situations in Syria can play a key role in reducing drug trafficking activities. Through cooperation with the Gulf states, the Syrian government can achieve these objectives.

In a nutshell, Syria has become a center for the production of illicit drugs and their smuggling to other countries. This has a devastating impact on the Syrian people and other nations in the region. It is crucial for the Syrian government to take firmer action and cooperate closely with other Arab leaders in order to tackle this threat.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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