LONDON: The large-scale export of Captagon from Syria and Lebanon is the legacy of a decade of conflict combined with widespread corruption, and reliance on the drug revenues is turning both countries into narco-states, according to a new report by Britain’s Channel 4.
In Lebanon, militias and gangs operating in Hezbollah-controlled areas such as the Bekaa Valley are producing up to 600,000 Captagon pills per week — worth around $3 million if sold in the Gulf.
Captagon, a brand name for the amphetamine-type stimulant fenethylline, is a cheap, readily produced drug previously used by Daesh fighters to battle without fear.
An anonymous producer of the drug told Channel 4: “Poverty and need forced me to trade in Captagon.”
Lebanon has been grappling with an economic collapse that has driven many of its people out of the country or into illicit activities.
The corruption of the Lebanese state, of which Iran-backed Hezbollah is a major constituent, eases the process for manufacturing and exporting drugs.
“Crime exists alongside corruption in this country. If there was no corruption, there would be no crime,” said the Captagon producer.
The Assad regime in Syria, which is dealing with its own currency crisis and economic collapse, is also becoming a narco-state, said Makram Rabah, a history lecturer at the American University of Beirut.
“At the moment both Lebanon and Syria, and all countries which are under Iranian occupation, are technically narco-states — and we’re being dealt with accordingly,” Rabah told Channel 4.
“This is, unfortunately, a reality which the Lebanese up until now haven’t yet admitted, and it’s something that will prevent us recovering from the ongoing economic collapse.”
For the Assad regime, the trade of drugs is now a lifeline for an economy ravaged by a decade of civil war and crippling international sanctions.
In 2020, legal exports from the country were worth just a fifth of the value of Captagon seized from Syrian drug traders.
According to a report by the Cyprus-based Center for Operational Analysis and Research, “Captagon exports from Syria reached a market value of at least $3.46 billion” in that year.
Some of those Syrian drug dealers are known to operate out of the port of Latakia, a stronghold of the regime and under the direct control of President Bashar Assad’s brother, who commands some of the country’s most elite and loyal fighting units.
Rabah said the export of Captagon is not only keeping the Syrian economy from total collapse, but is also being used to seek revenge on Gulf countries that opposed the regime’s violent crackdown on protesters and the war that ensued.
“This drug, particularly recently with the start of the Syrian civil war, has become a weapon, a tool that the Syrian regime, as well as the Iranian regime, uses against both Lebanon and the Gulf,” he added. Captagon “has become synonymous with Hezbollah and also the Assad regime,” he said.
The trade of the drug also presents a problem for Lebanon’s border officials, whose responsibility it is to prevent their export, which is pushed by other factions within the state, namely Hezbollah.
Col. Joseph Musalim of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces said: “The manufacture and smuggling of Captagon didn’t exist in Lebanon before the Syrian crisis. It came after the crisis, and showed traders and manufacturers that it’s a profitable trade.”
Gulf countries have responded to the deluge of Captagon coming out of Lebanon and Syria by tightening customs restrictions of goods often used by drug smugglers.
In April last year, Saudi Arabia announced the suspension of fruit and vegetable imports from Lebanon after the seizure of more than 5 million Captagon pills hidden in fruit.