Hizbullah Is Running A Drug Industry In Syria With The Knowledge And Collaboration Of The Regime, According To Syrian Opposition Websites

By: N. Mozes*
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November 17, 2021
By: N. Mozes*

The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here. 

Introduction

In recent years, the manufacturing, trade and use of drugs in war-torn Syria, whether in areas controlled by anti-state armed groups or those under the Syrian regime's control, has surged to a new level and it seems that Syria has turned into a point of departure for enormous drug shipments, especially Captagon.[1]

Some of these shipments have been seized at ports in the Mediterranean Basin including Cyprus, Malta, Egypt and the Gulf countries. The most conspicuous example was a billion-dollar Captagon shipment that was confiscated in Italy in June 2020.

Italian police inspect tubs containing counterfeit Captagon pills
Captagon shipment seized in Italy June 2020 (bbc.com, July 1, 2020)

Those shipments originated at ports in regions under Syrian government control, especially Latakia Port. It should be noted that according to some reports, during a 2019 visit to Teheran, Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad promised to transfer control of the Latakia Port to Iran in order to wipe out Syria's debt for the material and military aid provided by Iran.[2] If these reports are true, they suggest that Iran and its proxy Hizbullah have free reign of the port and can carry out import and export activities without supervision.

This fact as well as the complicated logistics required to run an operation of this scope for the production, shipping, and distribution of narcotics, indicate that Hizbullah, which has an international record in illegal drug trade,[3] and the Syrian regime, are behind this drug enterprise.

During this period, Syrian opposition media outlets and outlets opposed to the Iran-led resistance axis increased their reports saying that Hizbullah and the Syrian regime have made Syria the main center for producing and exporting drugs, especially Captagon.

According to these reports, the drug industry has become a significant source of income for the Syrian regime and for Hizbullah, both of which suffered heavy economic losses as a result of the years-long war and international economic sanctions.

If these allegations are true, Iran and Hizbullah's control and intervention in Syria will also have criminal implications, in addition to the security, cultural, and social ramifications.[4]

It should be noted that Captagon is known to be popular among members of the Islamic State (ISIS) and other rebel organizations. However, it is doubtful that organizations like ISIS, whose presence in Syria today is relatively limited, or even Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which controls Idlib, are capable of running operations of this magnitude and of doing so via ports under Syrian government control.

The following report will highlight reports published on Syrian opposition websites and anti-Hizbullah websites suggesting that Hizbullah, with the knowledge and collaboration of the Syrian government, has established an industry in Syria for the production, smuggling, and trade of illegal drugs.

Development By Hizbullah Of The Illegal Drug Trade In Syria

As mentioned, according to reports from outlets opposed to the Syrian regime and the resistance axis, Hizbullah used its presence in Syria, and the free rein granted to it by the Syrian regime in light of its support in fighting the rebels since the early days of the crisis, in order to launch a drug industry in Syria. According to these reports, Hizbullah initially focused on establishing Syria as a way station for drugs it produced in Lebanon. Drugs were smuggled from Lebanon to Syria, and then to the Gulf countries via Jordan, or alternatively, exported through Syria's ports to Europe, Egypt, or other destinations. Later, as Hizbullah established its presence in Syria following many victories against the rebels, it launched drug-producing laboratories and factories, and developed drug crop cultivation in Syria, possibly as a future alternative to Lebanon, where Hizbullah faces more internal supervision, due to its role as a political actor.

Drug-Smuggling Into Syria

Even before the outbreak of the revolution in March 2011, Syria was a transit country on the drug-smuggling route, although the extent of the smuggling then was relatively small.[5]  

The chaos caused by the civil war, the Syrian regime's inability or unwillingness to enforce the law, and a lack of income sources, all naturally caused an increase in drug trade across Syria, both in regime-controlled areas and areas controlled by the rebels or ISIS.

According to reports on anti-regime and anti-Hizbullah web outlets, Hizbullah exploited this chaos, along with the free reign granted to it by the regime, which to great extent owed its survival to Hizbullah, to smuggle drugs produced in Lebanon into Syria

Many of these drugs were bound for destinations outside Syria – countries in the Gulf and in Europe – with only a small amount intended for the local market.

Syrian opposition websites describe several major routes for smuggling drugs out of Lebanon, most of them originating in the Beqaa Valley area in east Lebanon, a known Hizbullah stronghold and one of the major areas for cultivating hashish in Lebanon.


Map of Lebanon, Beqaa area in blue (source: vectorstock)

One route, referred to as the Rankous route, originates in the villages in the Beqaa Valley area, continues through the Jaroud Rankous mountains on Lebanese-Syria border and from there to Rankous Valley and finally to the Syrian town of Rankous.

The second route described is along the Tfail-'Assal Al-Ward Road, which originates in the Ras Al-Harf area in the Beqaa Valley and continues to the Al Mabhas area where Hizbullah set up an illegal crossing point. The route continues from there to Tfail village in eastern Baalbek district via the Al-Jaouzeh area in the mountains on the border, and from there to the village of 'Assal Al-Ward, northeast of Damascus along the Syrian-Lebanese border.

Another route is via Flitah Road, which runs from the villages in the Beqaa Governorate in east Lebanon to the village of Flitah in the mountains near the Al-Thallajat area.in Rif Dimashq governorate.

A fourth route is via Qarah Road, which originates at the Al-Zamrani border crossing, which is an official border crossing, continues from there to the Qarah Mountains in the Mira area and finally to the town of Qarah, in Al-Nabk district of the Rif Dimashq governorate.[6]

According to Syrian opposition sources Hizbullah also uses these routes for the smuggling of weapons, fuel and funds to the regime, in an effort to circumnavigate the sanctions imposed on Syria.[7]

Furthermore, there are reports that smuggling is also taking place via the Bayt Jin area in the west of the Rif Dimashq Governorate and in the Al-Qusayr area, which is under Hizbullah control, in the countryside of the Homs Governorate.[8]

Hizbullah Cultivates Drug Crops In Syria

According to reports from anti-Hizbullah and anti-regime websites, over the years Hizbullah began using Syria's agricultural land to cultivate drug crops. Reports claimed that the organization exploited the fact that many residents had to leave their homes to avoid the heavy clashes in the area, taking over their lands and sometimes preventing the residents' return. One of the main areas where Hizbullah cultivates drug crops is Al-Qusayr, on the road connecting Damascus with the Mediterranean coast, near the Syria-Lebanon border, which became one of the main strongholds of Hizbullah in Syria in 2013.[9]

Reports said that Hizbullah took over large swaths of land that were abandoned by their owners during the harsh battles between rebel forces and regime forces and their allies, which took place in the area between 2012-2013, and that Hizbullah has blocked the residents from returning to their homes. Members of Hizbullah's security forces supervise the cultivation of hashish crops and employ locals who are loyal to the organization. In addition to using farmlands left behind by their owners, Hizbullah also leases land from the locals who remain. [10]

Hizbullah operatives also cultivate hashish in the Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus, mostly near the town of Zabadeen. It was reported that Hizbullah constructed embankments around the borders of its hashish fields. [11]

In 2021 it was reported that Hizbullah also began cultivating hashish in the Deir Al-Zour area of eastern Syria, a known stronghold of Iran-backed Shi'ite militias. According to reports, hashish crops were planted in a 450,000 square meter area known as the "Green Strip," west of the city of Al-Bukamal. In addition, the group cultivates hashish in the Al-Mazari’ area near the city of Al-Mayadin. One report claimed that Hizbullah ordered the local council to install a pump on the Euphrates River to supply water for these crops. [12]

Syria's Transformation Into A Captagon Production Capital

For the past two years, Syrian opposition websites have been reporting that Syria is no longer merely a transit country but has become a center for the production of drugs, first and foremost Captagon. Reports suggest that the raw materials are smuggled into Syria from Lebanon and Iran via the border with Iraq.[13]

The drugs are produced in laboratories and factories which are either permanent or mobile and operated by the militias loyal to Iran or their supporters across Syria. For example, in December 2020, the Damascusv.com website reported from “special sources” that “Hizbullah had set up a new factory for [the production] of narcotic pills and Hashish" three kilometers from the town of Serghaya in the Rif Dimashq Governorate near the border with Lebanon.

The factory was established on rocky terrain which belongs to a farmer in the area who is affiliated with Hizbullah. According to the report, “chemical cooks were brought from Lebanon” and the factory is under security surveillance 24/7 by 30 of the organization's Syrian and Lebanese operatives, and the local residents are forbidden to approach the area.[14]

In addition to the laboratory at Serghaya (1), there are at least 13 laboratories for drug production along the Syria-Lebanon border – at Rankous (2), 'Assal Al-Ward (3), Al-Jobeh (4), Talfita (5), Bakha’a (6), Tfail (7), Mada, and Al-Saboura – sometimes more than one at a particular location.[15] Another lab was built at Al-Quysar near Homs.[16]


The above map depicts the locations of several drug-production laboratories on the Syria-Lebanon border (Source: Google.com/maps)

Laboratories were also reportedly set up on the Syria-Jordan border, and in November 2019 the Iamahumanstory.com website reported that Hizbullah had brought tablet presses for the manufacture of Captagon tablets into the Kharab Al-Shahem area in the countryside in the Daraa Governorate.[17] Other laboratories are situated in the town of Zaizoun and in the town of Al-Qusayr near the border with Jordan.[18]

In November 2019, the Syrian opposition website Iamahumanstory.com reported that every few days vehicles which resemble ambulances and are fitted with laboratories for the production of drugs come to the Al-Qusayr area in southern Syria. According to the report, Shi'ite militias which are loyal to Iran are responsible for this operation.[19]

On October 22, 2021, the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies, which is based in Istanbul and Qatar, updated that Hizbullah and the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) established six new Captagon factories - two are situated in Al-Bukamal in eastern Syria, two in Tfail in western Al-Qalamoun, one in Al-Nayrab to the southeast of Aleppo in northern Syria and one in the Lajah area, 50 km southeast of Damascus.[20]

International And Local Markets For Syria Drugs

As mentioned, a significant portion of the drugs which is produced in Syria or smuggled from Lebanon into the country are exported via sea.

On July 1, 2020, the Italian authorities reported that about 84 million Captagon tablets, at an estimated value of more than a billion dollars, were seized at the port of Salerno on a ship that set sail from Syria. The pills were hidden inside large drums of paper and gear wheels. According to Italian police estimates, the shipment contained enough Captagon for the entire European market.[21]

In addition to the shipment which was seized in Italy, Greece thwarted an attempt to smuggle a shipment of Captagon tablets valued at $660 million, which were concealed in containers that arrived from Syria.

In 2018, in Malta, a shipment of cannabis valued at $28.5 million was seized from a boat that had set sail from Syria en route to Libya,[22] and Egypt also reported seizing large shipments of drugs which originated in Syrian ports.[23]

Another way to smuggle drugs outside Syria is over land, with Jordan being one of the destination countries, which serves as a gateway to the Gulf countries.

Since 2018, when reconciliation agreements were signed between the Syrian government and the rebel organizations in the south of the country,[24] Hizbullah and the Shi'ite militias loyal to Iran managed to consolidate their presence on the border with Jordan in a manner which grants them a free hand in the area.[25]

As previously stated, reports on Syrian opposition websites claim that Hizbullah and the militias loyal to Iran have set up several laboratories along the border with Jordan where they produce drugs, and that they employ a network of local smugglers.

In December 2019, the Sy-24.com website reported that the major drug-smuggling areas are Tabariyat (1), Koayiah (2), Al-Mata'aiyah, and Bayt Irah (3).[26]


The above map depicts the locations of several drug-smuggling areas on the Syria-Lebanon border (Source: Google.com/maps)

Jordanian security apparatuses frequently report thwarted attempts to smuggle drugs from Syria into Lebanon. In July 2021, there was a report about five such shipments being seized, one of which comprised more than one million Captagon tablets.[27]


The drugs pictured above were seized by Jordan in a smuggling attempt in July 2021. (Source: Shaebjo.com, July 5, 2021)

On November 8, 2021, the rebel faction Maghawir Al-Thawrah (The Revolutionary Commando Army) that is active in southeast Syria along the Jordanian border, reported that it thwarted an attempt to smuggle a shipment of Captagon pills at an estimated value of thousands of dollars, which is suspected of belonging to Hizbullah. According to the report, the destination of the shipment was Jordan and the Gulf countries. [28]

Local Consumption

The major objective of the drug industry in Syria is the markets outside Syria, where a larger margin of profit may be obtained, however, some of the drugs smuggled into Syria and produced there also reach the local market. Syrian opposition websites report a significant increase in drug trafficking and use across Syria, including in the capital city of Damascus, and including at schools.[29]

Syrian Government Position – Between An Attempt To Reassure The Local Population And Collaboration With Or Turning A Blind Eye To The Developing Drug Industry

Examining statements released by Syrian government shows that the regime is aware of the spread of the drug-production and smuggling phenomenon in the areas under its control.

Majid Al-Ayoubi, president of the criminal courts in Damascus, admitted in 2018 that in the previous years there had been an increase in drug use among students at schools and at universities.

He said that 60% of the drug users who were caught and tried in court were youths, adding that social networks make it easier for them to acquire drugs.[30]

At the same time, the Syrian government blames this problem on the country's enemies, as it also blames them for the popular uprising against it, the economic situation, and other problems.

Nidal Jreij, the head of the division for combatting drugs in the Interior Ministry, claims that "The countries which support the war of terror against Syria have used every means, first and foremost the introduction of a flow of narcotics substances in order to influence the brains of the young people so as to recruit them to battle, while exploiting Syria's strategic position as a transit country."[31]

SANA, the Syrian government news agency, often reports on the capture of drug dealers and addicts.[32] In 2019, it was reported that the government arrested Ra'id Khazem, who at the time was head of the division for combatting drugs, along with other senior members of the security apparatus, on suspicion of accepting bribes in exchange for willfully ignoring the cultivation of illegal drugs.[33]

However, the Syrian opposition website Baladi-news.com reported that those who were arrested were actually working against the drug dealers and that that was the true reason for their arrest.[34]

Moreover, the possibility that the purpose of the arrests was to convince the Syrian public that the government is working to combat the phenomenon should not be ruled out.

Despite the efforts of the Syrian government to appear, at least regarding internal public opinion, to be fighting the spread of the scourge of the drug phenomenon, there are growing indications that alongside tactical enforcement operations, the government is permitting the development of the drug industry in the country either actively, or at least passively.

An investigative report published in the German magazine Der Spiegel several days after the capture of the Captagon that was shipped from Latakia to Italy in June 2020, was doubtful about the initial claims of the Italian security apparatuses that it was ISIS that was behind the shipment and accused the Syrian regime and Hizbullah.[35]

Moreover, according to reports on opposition websites and those which oppose Hizbullah and the Syrian regime, there is collaboration between Hizbullah and the Iran-backed Shi'ite militias and elements within the Syrian government security apparatuses, regarding everything related to the smuggling and distribution of drugs.

According to the Syrian opposition websites, the smuggling, production, and distribution of drugs are conducted via cooperation between Hizbullah and the Shi'ite militias and the Syrian security apparatuses, especially the Fourth Armored Division, Airforce Intelligence, and the National Defense Forces, a pro government militia which is backed by Iran.[36]  

Reports indicate that in some cases there is direct collaboration between the security apparatuses and Hizbullah, in which the security apparatuses turn a blind eye to the smuggling and at times even provide security for the convoys carrying the contraband and for the facilities where the drugs are manufactured.[37]

Sometimes confrontations erupt between Hizbullah and the security apparatuses involved in the drug trafficking, which are most likely the results of financial disputes. Thus, from June 2018, reports began to appear around confrontations between Hizbullah forces and operatives in the National Defense Forces, during which several Hizbullah members were killed.[38] The Lebanese anti-Hizbullah Al-Modon daily reported that in late June 2019, an armed confrontation erupted between Hizbullah operatives and members of the National Defense Forces, at a Hizbullah military position situated between the towns of Qarah and Flitah in western Al-Qalamoun. The daily reported that during the clashes four Hizbullah operatives were killed. Al-Modon added that three of those who were killed “were buried under a cloak of secrecy as instructed by the organization, which promised their families that they would continue to pay the salaries of the 'martyrs'.'' It was also reported that the injured were transferred to field hospitals to prevent leaks to the media.[39]

In January 2020, Syrian opposition websites reported on violent confrontations between members of the National Defense Forces and members of an Iraqi Shi'ite militia in the Quneitra Governorate area.[40] However, it appears that the two sides managed to overcome their differences for the sake of their common interests.

Sometimes it is a matter of indirect cooperation. According to the reports, in order to carry out the drug smuggling and trade both within and beyond Syria, Hizbullah and Shi'ite militias loyal to Iran sometimes avail themselves of the services of local residents, some of whom were previously involved in the drug trade,[41] and some of whom are very close to senior members of the Syrian security apparatuses.[42]

Nouh Zeitar– Example Of The Support Granted By The Syrian Government To Lebanese Drug Dealers

One of the most prominent examples of the relationship between the Syrian government and drug dealers who are affiliated with Hizbullah is Nouh Zeitar, one of the major drug lords in Lebanon. There are several warrants from the Lebanese government for the arrest of Zaiter, who was born in the Al-Beqaa Governorate in 1977.

The warrants are for illegal trading in drugs and in weapons, kidnapping, and attacking the security apparatus.[43] According to reports in the Lebanese press, in 2014 Zeitar's leg was injured when the Lebanese Army conducted a raid near his house and he was transferred to the hospital, only to be smuggled out by his relatives.[44] Despite being a wanted man, Zeitar has granted several interviews to the Lebanese media and admitted that he grows hashish, but stressed that it is the country which pushes the residents of the area to do so because it does not provide any other ways of earning a living.[45]


Zeitar's interview to Lebanese Al-Jadeed TV, January 27, 2016 (https://www.memri.org/tv/lebanese-drug-lord-nouh-zeitar-offers-supply-hash-parliament-says-we-are-shield-hizbullah)

Zeitar's connections to Hizbullah are well-known and he does not hide them. In a video clip shared on social media in 2015, Zeitar is seen with armed men pledging allegiance to the organization's leader Hassan Nasrallah and declaring that he and his people will fight ISIS everywhere. Photographs showing him at Hizbullah outposts in Al-Qalamoun were also published.[46] In an interview he gave to a Lebanese television channel in 2016, Zeitar said that he has supported the organization "since the day he was born."[47]


The above images depict Nouh at Hizbullah outposts.

In a video clip released by the Lebanese Al-Jadeed TV channel on March 11, 2017, Sheikh Muhammad Yazbek, a senior cleric and one of the founders of Hizbullah, is shown paying a condolence visit to the Zeitar family and shaking hands with and speaking to Nouh Zeitar.[48]


The above image shows Nouh Zeitar and senior Hizbullah cleric Sheikh Muhammad Yazbek.

Zeitar is a known supporter of the Assad regime and posts messages on his Facebook page in praise of the regime and its leaders. For example, on December 7, 2020, he posted congratulations to President Assad's brother, Maher Al-Assad, commander of the Syrian Republican Guard and of the Fourth Armored Division, about which he commented, "53 years of love."[49]


Nouh Zeitar  shared the above post to Maher Al-Assad on his Facebook page.

Zeitar also has other connections with the Assad family and frequently visits Syria. Photographs showing him with Wasim Badi' Al-Assad, one of Bashar Al-Assad's relatives, have been published several times on social media. One example is a photograph of Wassim and Zeitar that Wasim published on his Facebook page on March 13, 2019, with the caption, "A Syrian Lebanese brother and friend who loves the Syrian homeland."[50]


The above photograph shows Wasim and Zeitar  on Wasim Al-Assad's Facebook page.

Another photograph of Zeitar with Wasim Al-Assad was published on Facebook by Syrian regime supporters in July 2018.[51]

Russian Position – Between Helping Civilians And A Power Struggle With Pro-Iran Shi'ite Militias

Alongside articles about the state-sponsored spread of the drug plague in Syria, Syrian opposition websites have reported on at least two cases in recent months in which the Russian military police attempted to stop the production and smuggling of illegal drugs.

On April 9, 2020, the Syrian opposition website, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported that the Russian military police had raided a storage facility containing narcotic substances in the Ma'raba area in the Al-Tall District of the Rif Dimashq Governorate.

The facility is owned by a local resident affiliated with Hizbullah and the raid took place following complaints made by local dignitaries to the Russian military police about the spread of drug trafficking in the area.[52]

If the report is accurate, it reflects the lack of confidence that the residents in the areas under Syrian government control have in the regime's ability and desire to deal with the drug problem.

On April 17, 2021, another Syrian opposition website reported that the Russian military police had seized a truck carrying illegal drugs and belonging to the Fourth Armored Division that was travelling from Damascus toward the Deir Al-Zour Governorate.

It was also reported that the cargo was destined for Iraq and that the operation was coordinated by the Fourth Armored Division and the iran-backed Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haq Shi'ite militia, which is active in Syria.[53]

It is probable that these actions by the Russian police took place in the context of the struggles for power and influence between Russia and Iran in Syria.[54]

Hizbullah's Response: These Are Baseless Accusations; Any Activity Related To Drugs Is Forbidden

The accumulation of allegations and suspicions against Hizbullah in recent months, which accuse the organization of involvement in drug production, smuggling, and trafficking, has compelled it to respond. In a January 8, 2021, speech in response to Italian drug bust six months earlier, Nasrallah claimed that the accusations were baseless. He said, "No official Italian source – not the police, not the judicial system, not the state, not the Interior Ministry and not the Justice Ministry – no [Italian] element has accused Hizbullah in this matter […] We even contacted senior officials in Italy to understand the source of these allegations, and it emerged that there is no basis for them. The opposite is true – they are at a loss between ISIS and European and Russian mafia organizations, and this has no connection to Hizbullah."

Nasrallah stressed, "Our position regarding drugs of any kind and any activity – production, selling, buying, transporting, smuggling, using – all these are forbidden. If Islamic law applied, the punishment would be death. This is the first time [sic] that I have been compelled to speak about this subject.[55] I don't know what goes on in the other parties, but in Hizbullah the organization has a court called the Organizational Bureau which judges. Every person who belongs to Hizbullah […] about whom it emerges that he has a connection to production, smuggling, assistance in smuggling, or assistance in production, or that he is covering up the production or trafficking or selling or buying – even the smallest quantity, in such a case, if it is proved that the brother is involved in such activity, the Organizational Bureau expels him from the organization – without any warnings or suspension of six months or a year or two years. Expulsion, he is totally removed from Hizbullah. If he is a volunteer, it's over, and if he received a salary, his salary is not provided anymore. If he is entitled to compensation, he does not receive it. This is known to all our brothers in the organization, so that no one will be tempted or make a mistake like this. We do not permit this, and our sources of authority do not permit this. There are claims that this is used in the arenas of the enemies – even there one should not use this […] You are attacking us, you are insulting our honor, and accusing us of deviant and indecent and very bad things […] You doubt our humanity, our morals, and say that we are criminals. Anyone who deals in Captagon and in drugs is a criminal, a murderer. We will not allow anyone to accuse us of this."[56]

Furthermore, in June 2021, The Consultative Center for Studies and Documentation, a Lebanese research institute with connections to Hizbullah, published the first part of a report titled, "Refuting the American Claims about Hizbullah's Role in Latin America."[57] The report states that its aim is "to understand the process by which these allegations were created and to expose the mechanisms and channels of this process" and that it is based on an examination of "dozens of sessions of the American Congress concerning Hizbullah as well as laws and executive decisions and statements from the Justice Ministry." The first part of the report, comprising 27 pages, purports to analyze the characteristics of the members of Congress who participated in these meetings and the laws they promoted against Hizbullah and Iran; the research institutes and the researchers who participated in these meetings; and the role of the "Zionist lobby" in the campaign against Hizbullah. The remaining parts of the report will be concerned with the backgrounds of the research institutes which participate in these meetings and their agendas and funding sources.

Conclusion

The decade-long war in Syria, which cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, has also impacted the illegal drug trade in the country. Several groups involved in the fighting, in particular the Syrian regime and its allies, such as Hizbullah, seek to obtain funding for their activities via involvement in the illicit drug trade and the production of Captagon tablets.

Despite Hassan Nasrallah's denial of any connection between his organization and drug smuggling, production, or trafficking, it appears that Hizbullah and Iran will continue to take advantage of their military presence in Syria to reap financial profits through their involvement in "legitimate" economic projects in the spheres of oil, food and industry[58]  and also in criminal activities, such as the drug trade.

The reports in the Syrian opposition press about the Russian military police raiding a drug storage facility and seizing trucks carrying illegal drug shipments may be expressions of the struggle for power and influence between Russia and Iran in Syria, and not purely part of Russia's counter narcotics efforts.

*N. Mozes is a Research Fellow At MEMRI.

 

 

[1] Captagon is an amphetamine, and one of several brand names for the drug compound fenethylline hydrochloride.

[3] Since 2008, law enforcement agencies in the U.S. have been monitoring worldwide drug and arms syndicates established by Hizbullah, whose annual value is estimated at more than a billion dollars. Politicio.com, December 18, 2017.

[5] sasapost.com, January 10, 2020

[6] Damascusv.com, June 10, 2020.

[7] See for example, Almodon.com, October 10, 2020.

[8] Orient-news.net/, April 27, 2020.

[9] On November 13, 2016, Hizbullah even held a military parade in Al-Qusayr, the first of its kind in Syria. See MEMRI report: The Significance, Ramifications, And Messages Of Hizbullah's Show Of Military Force In Al-Qusayr, Syria, January 3, 2017.

[10] www.almodon.com, September 8, 2019; nedaa-post.com,

[11]  www.sy-24.com, 26.12.2000

[12] janoubia.com, 24.5.2021; sy-24.com, 25.5.2021; stepagency-sy.net, 3.6.2021

[13] For example, the Syrian opposition website Iamahumanstory.com reports that weapons and "biological materials" are flown from Iran's Isfahan International Airport to Baghdad International Airport, transferred from there to temporary storage facilities in the city of Karbala then overland to Deir Al-Zour airport, Iamahumanstory.com, November 4, 2019.

[14] Damascusv.com, December 27, 2020.

[15] Syriahr.com, February 17, 2021.

[16] Sy-24.com, December 18, 2019.

[17] Iamahumanstory.com, November 4, 2019.

[18] Sy-24.com, December 18, 2019.

[19] Iamahumanstory.com, November 4, 2019.

[20] www.harmoon.org, October 22, 2021. In 2018, opposition websites reported that Hizbullah continues to establish weapons storage facilities and bases in the Al-Lagaah area. See MEMRI report Websites Opposed To The Syrian Regime: Iran Continues To Consolidate Its Presence In Southern Syria, In Violation Of Understandings Between Russia, Israel, Jordan, January 4. 2019.

[21] Bbc.com, July 1, 2020.

[22] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), June 28, 2021.

[23] On November 29, 2020, there was a report about a shipment that was seized at the Damietta Port on a boat which left from a port in Syria and was en route to the UAE, Almasryalyoum.com, November 29, 2020. On December 12, 2018, there was a report about another shipment from Syria which was seized at Damietta Port, Almasryalyoum.com, November 29, 2020.

[24] For more information about the reconciliation agreements between the Syrian government and the rebel organizations, see MEMRI Report: Local Ceasefire Agreements In Syria: Capitulation To Regime's Siege-AndStarvation Strategy Under UN Sponsorship, January 26, 2016.

[25] For more information about the consolidation of the presence of the Shi'ite militias loyal to Iran in southern Syria, see for example MEMRI Report: Websites Opposed To The Syrian Regime: Iran Continues To Consolidate Its Presence In Southern Syria, In Violation Of Understandings Between Russia, Israel, Jordan, January 4, 2019.

[26] Sy-24.com, December 18, 2019.

[27] Ammonnews.net, July 19, 2021; Orient-news.net, July 20, 2021.

[28] Twitter.com/MaghaweirThowra, November 8, 2021.

[29] Halabtodaytv.net, August 5, 2019; and Damascusv.com, December 9, 2021.

[30] Al-Watan (Syria), March 27, 2018.

[31] Moi.gov.sy, January 27, 2021.

[32] For example, on July 13, 2021, it was reported that the division for the fight against drugs in Damascus arrested a drug dealer in possession of 12 kilos of hashish, SANA News Agency (Syria), July 13, 2021; and on June 7, 2021, it reported that four drug dealers were captured in the Rif Dimashq Governorate, SANA News Agency (Syria), June 7, 2021.  

[33] Eqtsad.net, August 20, 2019.

[34] Baladi-news.com, January 5, 2020.

[35] Speigel.de, July 3, 2020.

It should be noted that the initial report from the Italian law enforcement agencies accused the Islamic State (ISIS) of responsibility for the smuggling. However, several days later, reports began to appear in the international media according to which it was actually Hizbullah and the Syrian government which were behind the smuggling attempt, for example, Spiegel.de, July 3, 2020. Also, ISIS denied the allegations. For more information, see MEMRI JTTM Report: ISIS Editorial Accuses Italy Of Drug Trade With Syrian Regime, Regime, Claims U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan Is Connected With Opium Trade, July 9, 2020.

[36] For more information about this militia see MEMRI report: Syria Regime Establishing Popular Armed Militias Modeled On Iranian Basij, April 25, 2016.

[37] Orient-news.net, April 27, 2020; Iamahumanstory.com, November 4, 2019; Damascusv.com, December 27, 2020; Sy-24.com, December 18, 2019; and Enabbaladi.net, February 21, 2021.

[38] orient-news,net, June 6, 2018.

[39] Almodon.com, July 2, 2019.

[40] Orient-news.net, January 21, 2020; and damascusv.com, January 13, 2020.

[41] Orient-news.net, January 17, 2021.

[42] It should be noted that some of the heads of the gangs involved in this activity were previously members of rebel organizations who, in 2018, signed reconciliation agreements with the Syrian government, Iamahumanstory.com, November 4, 2019.

[43] The most recent warrant was issued on April 19, 2021, in which he is accused of dealing and distributing drugs, Nna-leb.gov.lb, April 19, 2021.

[44] Aljoumhouria.com, October 10, 2014.

[46] Lebanondebate.com, September 14, 2015.

[47] See MEMRITV Clip: Drug Lord Nouh Zeitar Offers to Supply Hash at Parliament, Says: We Are the Shield of Hizbullah, January 27, 2016.

[48] Janoubia.com, March 11, 2017.

[49] Facebook.com/nouh.zeaiter.5, December 7, 2020.

[51] Facebook.com/firasalhamzawiq, June 19, 2018.

[52] Syriahr.com, April 9, 2020.

[53] Stepagency-sy.net, April 17, 2021.

[54] For more information about these power struggles see MEMRI Report: Struggle Between Russia, Iran For Control Over Syria's Centers Of Power, September 23, 2019.

[55] It should be noted that this is not the first time that Nasrallah has been compelled to officially rebuff accusations of drug trafficking directed at his organization. He made similar statements in a speech he delivered on January 19, 2018, following the publication on Politicio.com of an investigative article which states that the Obama Administration prevented steps being taken against drug trafficking by Hizbullah in South America in order to promote the nuclear deal with Iran, Alahednews.com.lb, January 21, 2018. 

[56] Almanar.com.lb, January 9, 2021.

[57] Dirasat.net, June, 2021.

[58] For more information about Iranian economic investments in Syria, see for example, MEMRI Report: How The Assad Regime Is Dealing With The Caesar Act Sanctions – Part I: Circumventing The Sanctions With Help Of Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, June 8, 2021.

The Cyber & Jihad Lab

The Cyber & Jihad Lab monitors, tracks, translates, researches, and analyzes cyber jihad originating from the Middle East, Iran, South Asia, and North and West Africa. It innovates and experiments with possible solutions for stopping cyber jihad, advancing legislation and initiatives federally – including with Capitol Hill and attorneys-general – and on the state level, to draft and enforce measures that will serve as precedents for further action. It works with leaders in business, law enforcement, academia, and families of terror victims to craft and support efforts and solutions to combat cyber jihad, and recruits, and works with technology industry leaders to craft and support efforts and solutions.

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