Saudi and Greek drug busts highlight Hezbollah’s ‘drug strategy’
DUBAI: Lebanese fruits and vegetables are no longer welcome in Saudi Arabia after vigilant port authorities in the Kingdom thwarted an attempt to smuggle narcotics inside grenades.
Last month, customs officials at the Islamic port of Jeddah seized more than 5 million Captagon pills cleverly hidden in a shipment of grenades from Lebanon. In addition, amphetamine pills hidden in a shipment of grenades from Lebanon were seized in the King Abdulaziz port of Dammam.
The Kingdom responded to the incident by banning the import and transit of fruit and vegetables from Lebanon.
Waleed Al-Bukhari, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon, revealed that there have been attempts to smuggle over 600 million pills from Lebanon over the past six years.
Lamenting the economic impact of the drop in drugs and the import ban, Michel Moawad, a Lebanese politician who resigned from parliament in protest against the August 4, 2020 explosion in Beirut, said farmers and legitimate importers are “paying the price today because of Captagon.” smugglers. “
âWhat do we gain by exporting missiles, militias and drugs?â he said. “What are our interests when we are hostile to the Arabs and the international community, when we go to fight in Yemen and elsewhere?”
When Moawad demanded that âLebanese soil remain totally sovereign, without security strongholds, without illegal weapons, missiles, military training camps for Houthis and without Captagon factories,â he did not have to explicitly name Hezbollah.
The failed attempt to get amphetamine pills to Saudi Arabia is most likely linked to the Iran-aligned Shia group with an active military wing, an anonymous source told Independent Persian.
The source pointed to Hezbollah’s reputed association with drug smuggling, including Captagon pills made in Syria, a charge the group vigorously denies.
The source added that Hezbollah, by virtue of its authority over the âlegal and illegalâ border checkpoints between Syria and Lebanon, had uncontrolled control over all drug-related operations.
Hezbollah officials and politicians have yet to comment on the charges.
Lebanese security officials have so far arrested four people suspected of being linked to the cargo seized. Local media speculated that the grenades were coming from Syria via the Al-Masnaa border checkpoint or the northern Al-Aboudeyye border post.
After the certificate of origin was changed from Syrian to Lebanese, the shipment was shipped to Saudi Arabia via the Port of Beirut, which does not have scanning devices to detect drugs. The Independent Persian quoted the source as saying that “the Captagon was produced in Syria, transported to Beirut and then shipped to the Kingdom.”
Earlier in April, Greek authorities seized more than four tonnes of cannabis hidden in a cargo of dessert machines traveling from Lebanon to Slovakia in the country’s main port, Piraeus, following a drug advice. United States Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Greek authorities said the drugs were estimated to be worth $ 4 million in market and that Saudi Arabia’s drug enforcement agency had assisted them in the case.
In January, the BBC aired a documentary showing Italian police burning 85 million amphetamine pills, weighing 14 tonnes, which had been seized in June 2020. Italian financial crimes police said the smuggling came from the Syrian port of Latakia.
The origin of the smuggling was initially believed to be Daesh, but turned out to be Syria, according to the BBC documentary, which alleged that the Syrian regime and its ally, Hezbollah, were deeply involved in drug trafficking in as a major source of funding.
The size of the transport indicated that the amphetamine pills were being manufactured on a very large scale in appropriate factories, which was clearly beyond the capacity of Daesh given the loss of most of its territory. This left areas under the control of Syrian President Bashar Assad as a likely source of the pills.
The BBC report, however, mentions that Captagon is produced illegally in Lebanon. Italian authorities have not publicly announced a possible manufacturer of the pills, but have confirmed that they originate from Latakia.
It is believed that the production of illegal drugs exploded in Syria during the civil war, emerging as a much needed source of income for the Assad regime. The ruling clique and its foreign allies have used the proceeds of drug trafficking to evade sanctions imposed by the West.
The amphetamine in Captagon is also known for its inhibitory and fear-stimulating effects, which have been shown to be useful during long fighting in war-torn areas in the Middle East.
In recent years, authorities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, among other countries, have seized huge quantities of Captagon, often in shipments from Syria.
In a televised speech in January, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said the accusations about his involvement in the production of amphetamines had “no credibility.”
âOur position on drugs of all kinds is (clear). It is religiously forbidden to manufacture, sell, buy, smuggle and consume. In some cases, the punishment could even be execution, according to Sharia law, âhe said.
However, American and European drug agencies are convinced that Hezbollah is profiting from the drug trade. Europol, a European law enforcement agency, released a report in 2020 warning that Hezbollah operatives were using European cities as a base for trading “drugs and diamonds” and for laundering profits.
In 2018, the US State Department named Hezbollah one of the top five global criminal organizations. Reports indicate that Hezbollah’s criminal operations have intensified in recent times in response to Iranian directives to generate revenue as part of its efforts to avoid US sanctions.
For their part, the Israeli police accused Hezbollah of smuggling hashish into the country.
Lebanon is known to be one of the world’s leading producers of cannabis, widely cultivated in areas considered to be Hezbollah strongholds, including Baalbek and Hermel.
This section contains the relevant benchmarks, placed in (Opinion field)
Last year, the US State Department and the Washington intelligence community said there was ample evidence to support allegations linking Hezbollah to criminal activity, including drug trafficking, in South America and Europe.
Since 2009, many Lebanese have been sanctioned by the US Treasury for their connection to organized crime, involving drug trafficking and money laundering. Many of those sanctioned were linked to Hezbollah.
Hezbollah has forged strong ties with South America’s Paraguay-Argentina-Brazil tri-border region, which is home to more than 5 million people of Lebanese descent. Local contacts are believed to facilitate and cover up Hezbollah’s drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorist financing operations in this area.
Antoine Kanaan, editor of Lebanon Law Review, says there is no doubt that Hezbollah was behind the Captagon found in the shipment of grenades that reached Jeddah.
He said the pomegranate is not even produced commercially in Lebanon, adding that it is a secondary fruit crop whose cultivation is “limited to plots as small as orchards and private gardens.
In contrast, Syria is well known for its pomegranate production, especially in areas such as Daraa, he told Arab News.
âThis means that the pomegranates that went from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia came from Syria,â said Kanaan, who believes the Captagon was inserted into the fruit in Lebanon.
The amount of Captagon involved and the ingenuity of the plot confirms Hezbollah’s involvement, or at least consent and benefit sharing, according to Kanaan, who further noted that consensus rules everything in Lebanon, even drugs.
“Hezbollah is the primary supplier of Captagon to the region and there is no way that an independent Lebanese trader, or even the Syrian government, would have dared to achieve this without involving Hezbollah,” he said.
As to why the drugs were sent to Saudi Arabia, Kanaan said, “It is possible but unlikely that they are headed for fighters (Iran-backed Houthis) in Yemen.”
Brig. General Adel Machmouchi, former head of the antinarcotics department of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, said the drug roundup in Jeddah revealed that Lebanon was one of the countries that did not cooperate with international bodies fighting against the drug.
In a television interview over the weekend, he suggested that Lebanese ministries and relevant security organs should have “better and tighter control” over areas – in the Bekaa Valley and in northern Lebanon – where agriculture and illegal drug production take place.
He said the government should turn these illegal businesses into legitimate and productive projects.
Machmouchi said the sanctions “are not severe enough to reduce the crimes of drug production, trafficking and smuggling” and should be made tougher to have a deterrent effect.
He claimed that there were around 20 factories used to produce Captagon pills in Lebanon. âLebanese antinarcotics agencies should (join forces) with their counterparts in Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries to be able to fight this crime and stop the process of using Lebanon as a springboard for drug smuggling, âMachmouchi said.