Captagon trade allows Syria to ride out spillover from regional war

Experts warn Syria lacks motive to stop Captagon drugs trade as it seeks internal stability

Fighters affiliated with Syria's Hayat Tahrir Al Sham rebel-group display Captagon previously seized at a checkpoint they control in Daret Ezza, Aleppo. AFP
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Syria has "no motive" to bring a halt to its $45.6 billion Captagon drugs trade, experts warn, as it uses the funds as a "lifeline" to bolster its struggling economy.

The UK estimates the global trade in Captagon is worth about $57 billion, with 80 per cent of the world’s supply produced in Syria as a source of revenue for President Bashar Al Assad's regime.

In a webinar hosted by think tank Chatham House looking at how the Israel-Gaza conflict is effecting regional instability in Syria, experts revealed the trade in Captagon shows no sign of abating.

Haid Haid, Consulting Fellow for the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House, said Mr Al Assad has 'no willingness' to stop the Captagon trade.

He said there are levels of involvement from militia, the military and security agencies in the flow of Captagon from Syria to Jordon.

"Because of that the regime has been able to gain a lot of money," he said.

"The regime has no motive to stop it."

The amphetamine-based drug is consumed in pill form and induces periods of heightened concentration as well as feelings of confidence and euphoria.

Captagon lab found in Iraq

Captagon lab found in Iraq

Mr Haid said a "lack" of financial incentive for Syria from other regimes gives it no reason to crackdown on it.

Both the UK and US have hit Syria with western sanctions as a result.

"Trade in the drug is a financial lifeline for the Al Assad regime – it is worth approximately three times the combined trade of the Mexican cartels," the UK Foreign Office has said.

"The production and trafficking of Captagon enriches Al Assad’s inner circle, militias and warlords, at the expense of the Syrian people who continue to face crippling poverty and repression at the hands of the regime."

Joseph Bahout, Director at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, said Al Assad's regime is "ready to trade anything" for a reward at the moment due to its struggling economy.

He said Syria's reluctance to get involved in the Israel-Gaza war is in part due to its struggling economy and a desire to build bridges.

"Al Assad has distanced himself from regional escalation. I think the main position was that the regime wants to stay out of it for different reasons," he said.

"Firstly the rift and conflict which started with Hamas in 2012 when Hamas sided with the uprising and other aspects relating to domestic situation in Syria, its economy is suffering and Al Assad's military is ill-equipped and spread thinly throughout Syria and we have regional countries advising Al Assad to stay out."

With its economy suffering, drugs gangs are using Jordan as the main conduit for smuggling drugs from southern Syria into the Arabian Peninsula, a trade Jordanian officials have described as a threat to the kingdom's national security.

Last year police in Jordan destroyed 12.5 million Captagon pills captured in raids.

The Jordanian military has fortified the border with Syria with barriers, patrols and monitoring equipment, with the support of the United States and other western allies, to try to stop the smuggling.

Updated: April 24, 2024, 3:01 PM