When governments or organizations that operate under the legitimacy of a state engage in smuggling drugs, the negative consequences can be devastating for other nations. The Iranian regime and its proxy Hezbollah appear to be increasing their efforts to smuggle illicit drugs to other countries, particularly in the West.
A Lebanese man, Ghassan Diab, was recently extradited from Cyprus to the United States for charges linked to laundering drug money for the militant group Hezbollah. According to the US Department of Justice, Diab is alleged "to have conspired to engage in, and actually engaged, in the laundering of drug proceeds through the use of the black market peso exchange in support of Hezbollah's global criminal-support network".
Italian authorities announced on July 1, 2020 that they had seized 15.4 tons of counterfeit Captagon pills produced in Syria, a country reportedly the largest producer and exporter of the Captagon (fenethylline). The seized 15.4 tons of counterfeit Captagon pills are worth an estimated $1.3 billion. Captagon, a super-charged amphetamine, is banned in many countries due to its addictive nature. Reportedly, the seized drugs were so carefully hidden that the airport scanners did not detect them, according to Commander Domenico Napolitano of the Naples financial police. It was the interception of calls made by some criminals that assisted the local police in seizing the drugs.
"It is the largest quantity that has ever been seized globally, depriving organized crime of proceeds that would have exceeded $660 million (587.45 million euros)."
Why has Syria become the epicenter of producing illegal drugs and exporting them to other countries including the West? Possibly because Iran and Hezbollah exert significant influence in Syria and there is scarcely any credible international organization monitoring what is happening in Syria, a lapse that makes it difficult to these kinds of detect criminal activities.
Cash-strapped Iran and Hezbollah are desperate for money. Sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on the Iranian regime have hit the mullahs and their proxies hard. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently admitted that, as Iran's currency, the rial, continues to lose its value, the Islamic Republic is encountering the worst economic crisis since its establishment in 1979. Based on the latest reports, US sanctions have also caused Iran to cut funds to its militias in Syria. Iran's militants are not receiving their salaries or benefits, making it extremely difficult for them to continue fighting and destabilizing the region. Feeling the pressure of sanctions on Iran, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, has also called on his group's fundraising arm "to provide the opportunity for jihad with money and also to help with this ongoing battle."
The relationship between Hezbollah, and Iran, specifically the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in smuggling drugs dates back to early 1980s. According to the book Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon's Party of God by Matthew Levitt:
"Following the establishment of Hizbullah in the early-1980s-recruiting heavily from key Bekaa Valley tribes and families — it benefited from a religious edict, or fatwa, issued in the mid-1980s providing religious justification for the otherwise impure and illicit activity of drug trafficking. Presumed to have been issued by Iranian religious leaders, the fatwa reportedly read: We are making drugs for Satan — America and the Jews. If we cannot kill them with guns, we will kill them with drugs."
According to an FBI report, declassified in November 2008, "Hizbullah's spiritual leader... has stated that narcotics trafficking is morally acceptable if the drugs are sold to Western infidels as part of the war against the enemies of Islam."
In other words, by smuggling drugs to the West, Hezbollah and Iran also aim at killing "infidels" and damaging Western countries. The United States is not immune from Hezbollah's and Iran's drug-related criminal activities.
Iran and Hezbollah have also been increasing their cooperation with Latin American drug cartels, and some Latin American governments, such as Venezuela, appear to be more than willing to provide safe haven for Islamists to carry out their criminal and drug-related activities. The Washington-based Center for a Secure Free Society published a paper titled "Canada on Guard: Assessing the Immigration Security Threat of Iran, Venezuela and Cuba." It stated that Venezuela has granted many passports to radical Islamists. These passports could easily be used for travel to North America or Europe.
The international community, the United Nations, and specifically its Office on Crimes and Drugs, remain totally silent on Hezbollah and Iran's large-scale drug trafficking across the world.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US foreign policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu