Iran floods south Syria with Captagon pills, trade and strategic gains

DARAA, Syria (North Press) – The geopolitical and security position of Suwayda and Daraa governorates in southern Syria turned them into a free zone for drug trading. 

Following the control of the southern areas of the country by Syrian government forces within the settlement agreement of 2018, smuggling has become on the rise on the border with Jordan via Suwayda and Daraa.

On September 5, the Central Committee in Daraa and the government security committee, accompanied by the Russian guarantor, began implementing the terms of the agreement that includes handing over light and medium weapons.   

According to observers, one of the outcomes of Russia- Ukraine war was the Iranian positioning on the border with Jordan that has eventually led to an increase in the Captagon pills smuggling operations.   

Suwayda a Captagon storehouse  

With the advent of winter, smuggling operations of drugs via Suwayda renew.

Drug smuggling is a main economic resource in Syria. Iranian-backed militias exploit the hard living conditions in Suwayda to harass the people to smuggle drugs to get money.  

A military leader in Suwayda told North Press, on the condition of anonymity, that Suwayda Governorate has been turned into a storehouse for Captagon pills.

“In summer, the Iranian-backed militias store pills in Salkhad, al-Ghariyah, Malah, and al-Shaab (south of Suwayda) to facilitate its smuggling in winter,” he said.

According to the military leader, drug dealers in Suwayda such as Mu’taz Muzher, Nasser al-Saadi and Imad Qabbani; all of them are groups affiliated with Raji Falhout.

Raji Falhout is the leader of a militia which is backed and supported by the Military Security Branch of the Syrian government forces.  

Ahmad Jaafar, the most prominent drug dealer in the governorate, was killed late in March 2018 by a local faction in Suwayda over his involvement in drug trading.  

“Mer’i al-Ramthan from the village of al-Shaab, east of Suwayda, is one of the prominent drug dealers in Suwayda today,” the military leader said.  

After adopting new rules and surveillance regulations on cars coming from Syria, the authorities in Jordan found drugs in cars loaded with fruits and vegetables.  

More recently, youths from Suwayda are used by smugglers. Each one could smuggle 50-60 kg of pills and cross the border on foot, according to the source.

Operations are carried out by teams that reconnoiter the road, others watch via camouflage cars to secure the road, some distract the security forces of Jordan and others carry out the operation in due time to cross the border.

According to a local source, an operation into Jordan costs nearly $6.000 for a group as a whole.

The military leader added that drugs enter Suwayda via cars coming from Lebanon that pass security checkpoints held by Syrian government forces on Damascus-Suwayda highway without any scrutiny.

A kilogram of drugs in Suwayda is sold in return for 25.000 Syrian pounds (SYP, about $5). It is so cheap to lure the youths and flood Suwayda with drugs, according to the source.

Samir Azzam, coordinator of Syrian Secular and Democratic Gathering in Suwayda said that over the past two years Iran has sought to “make borders in Suwayda a window for smuggling Captagon pills to Jordan and the Gulf States.”  

Azzam told North Press, “For this end, military groups were formed in cooperation with security branches of the regime. They are made up of abduction and robbery gangs that were developed in the governorate amid preoccupation by Suwayda protection factions with the border.”  

Azzam mentioned a facility for manufacturing and canning Captagon pills in Suwayda that was found in the offices of Raji Falhout.  

“After militias dominated the governorate through abductions, murders, drug spreading at home and smuggling to Jordan dangers emerged against the people of Suwayda. Protection factions revolted on July 26 and attacked offices and security checkpoints and destroyed equipment in manufacturing Captagon pills,” he said.  

According to Azzam, “By exterminating such gangs the project of Iran, regime [Syrian government] and Hezbollah received a blow in the governorate of Suwayda that cut smuggling lines to Jordan.”  

After the July 26 occurrence, Iran has been focusing on “smuggling line in the village of al-Shaab in the Syrian Desert in the east of Suwayda close to the border with Jordan.”  

Daraa a transit for drugs

The situation is not a different one in the governorate of Daraa. A local source told North Press that military factions known for their affiliation with Iran “are largely believed to be behind supporting and protecting drug dealers.”   

The source added these groups are “Abu Ali al-Lahham affiliated with the Air Force Security Branch known for its affiliation with Iran that secures protection for its members who convey drugs from eastern countryside of Daraa to western countryside of Suwayda.

The source indicated “Falah Hamed al-Ruwaidhan from the town of Mesike in the east of Daraa is a well-known drug dealer. It is years since he has kept relations with leaders in Hezbollah through his relative Hassan Mansour al-Ruwaidhan.”   

According a source, “Cars come from Lebanon and unload its charge in the house of al-Ruwaidhan in the village of Mesike.”  

Al-Ruwaidhan conveys drugs to the village of Libin in Suwayda, then to the east of the governorate in preparation to be crossed into Jordan.”   

“Al-Ruwaidhan is responsible for the murder of nearly 30 persons of Bedouin tribesmen in January where he transferred them to the eastern countryside of Suwayda, paid them amounts of money to smuggle drugs into Jordan which set a trap in which they were all killed and transferred to the capital Amman.”  

According to the source, “each person is paid $5.000 in return for a pack.” 

In the village of Kharab al-Shahem in the western countryside of Daraa, “there is a group led by Muhammad al-Khalidi known as Abu Salem al-Khalidi affiliated with the Fourth Division [of the Syrian government forces]. The group secures conveying drugs from the western countryside to the border with Jordan,” the source added.

Iran and southern Syria  

Mustafa al-Naimi, an expert in Iranian affair, said “Iran deals with southern Syria in a different way,” attributing that to “the sensitivity of the southern area and the shared borders with Jordan and Palestine.”

“The norms and regulations applied in the south [of Syria] are within the soft tactic both politically and militarily,” he added.  

According to the expert, “Those affiliated with the Iranian project are entitled with influence surpasses those affiliated with the Russian one of the Syrian regime. On the military arena, they can move everywhere in Syria and cannot be sued if they commit massacres not to mention the monthly salaries they receive.”

“A main pillar of the Iranian sectarian project is to control the southern area, notably Quneitra and Daraa due to the effects it makes on those dubbed by Iran as US allies,” he said. 

Southern governorates are used as military and security shields to defend the Iranian project. It is a main gain made by Iran as a result of the Arab recession and the retreat of Russian one from the south.

Al-Naimi noted to the increasing number of military posts of Iran in the south, “Malik al-Ashtar base has been created. It was run by experts in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).”  

Al-Naimi voiced his concerns that such bases could change the situation on the ground in southern Syria in providing logistical support to fighters present in the south.   

In addition, such bases could secure the transfer of fighters coming from Syrian-Iraqi border and then to Lebanon.

“The aim is to secure the international road from Abu Kamal crossing up to al-Masnaa border crossing that connects the town of Jidayda with the Beqaa Governorate in Lebanon,” he said.

The expert believed that the Iranian-backed militias largely depend on self-supporting [funds], and drugs are the main resource to run its military operations.  

The need of money and the sanctions imposed by the US led the militias to approach the Fourth Division of the Syrian government forces which in turn render logistical support and free movement on the border tape with Jordan, al-Naimi added.

According to al-Naimi, due to the increasing number of the operations of drugging pills, Jordan has adopted other technics including drones.

Reporting by Ihsan Muhammad and Razan Zeinaddin