By Arab News
By Khaled Abou Zahr*
When does a country become designated as a narco-state? Have Lebanon and Syria already reached that stage? The simple definition of such a state is that drugs are openly traded with the approval or even protection of the government. So, the answer is simple: The growing Captagon trade has made these two countries narco-states.
There have been numerous reports describing the links between elements of the Syrian Army and the protection given by Hezbollah to drug smugglers. This trade primarily targets the Gulf countries, but it is extending to Europe as well. Last week, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior announced the seizure of 1 million Captagon pills hidden inside plastic boxes of grapes. The previous successful seizure in Kuwait was in June, when 5 million pills were found. Other major hauls have also been revealed in the past few months, including Turkey seizing 12.3 million pills in August and Saudi Arabia’s 15 million in July, while Jordan expects the trade to more than double.
This level of production and capacity to smuggle are not the making of criminal organizations. This is obviously done, as a US think tank has reported, with the support of elements of the Syrian Army and Hezbollah, who oversee the production and the smuggling by organized crime groups. There is, on the other hand, no clear international policy to counter these activities, which will have disastrous consequences not only in the target countries of this illegal trade, but also within the communities of origin: Lebanon and Syria.
Unfortunately, this is not something new. There is an old story that tells of Lebanon’s role in the trade of hashish in the 1950s and 1960s. The story states that, in the early 1960s, Lebanon engaged with a renowned consultancy firm to give it some indications on how to solve some budget deficit and structural finance issues. As this firm went through the income the country generated, a line for a large amount was unexplained. The consultant asked about this income and what it represented, but a sort of malaise grew within the government institution. More importantly, no one was willing to give an answer.
However, the consultant was persistent and finally the person in charge bluntly explained that these were amounts paid to the government for the passage and smuggling of hashish. It was at this point that the consultant, probably calculating the importance of the amount and the chances of Lebanon generating similar revenues for the coffers of the country from other sources, gave his advice: Do not reform, just keep everything as it is.
Many old-timer journalists and public figures have stood by the fact that the story is true. Regardless — and even if it is only an urban myth — in a society like Lebanon, where jokes and stories bluntly describe our ills, this says something. However, similar to other narco-states, what starts as a bribe for the free passage of drugs likely ends with the smugglers becoming more powerful than the state and owning it. It is enough to ruin a country.
Today, numerous reports have stated that the groups controlling this illegal trade have close links with Hezbollah. Over the last decade, Hezbollah has been accused of international drug trafficking and some of its members arrested for their involvement in it. It has been able to run smuggling and money laundering operations from every continent, from Africa to the Americas. This has been described as one of the funding sources for the Iranian-backed militia. And so, with the Lebanese state under its thumb, it has transformed the country into a narco-terrorist state.
How long will Europe stay silent over the development of a full-blown narco-terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean? The security risks of the smuggling routes and the corruption that comes with this trade could have irreversible consequences for the entire Middle East and Europe. With the military focus of Hezbollah, these routes could also be used to smuggle weapons. Clearly, the illegal routes used to ship these drugs are a security breach for the entire Middle East and Europe. When one knows how the Syrian regime operates and its capacity to infiltrate extremist groups, this could be a recipe for disaster.
This is why it is important for European countries and the EU to take action and fast. It is high time to take strong measures and put pressure on these narco-terrorist regimes to stop such activities. Hezbollah should be designated not only as a terrorist organization but also as an organized crime group. The separation between political and military organization created by Western pundits also needs to stop. This is a criminal terrorist organization holding an entire country hostage and now it is exporting this horror in the form of Captagon pills. It will destroy Europe’s youth the same way it destroyed Lebanon.
Lebanon is in a dire financial situation and this trade is empowering Hezbollah even more. Corruption is only the symptom of the real disease: The occupation. This Captagon trade controlled by the Syrian military and Hezbollah is symbolic of the political transition in the country in recent decades. This is why the Lebanese need to make the hard choices and correct the wrongs of the real or imaginary consultant who in the 1960s advised the country to accept its fate.
• Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.