Zia Odeh - Istanbul
February 22 2022
The Jordanian king on a visit to the border with Syria
The first visit was on February 14, at which point he saluted the border guards, stressing the importance of addressing drug smuggling operations, while in the second, which took place on Monday, Abdullah II participated, according to a statement by the Ministry of Defense, in a special forces exercise under the name "Strike of Hawks". ".
Since the beginning of this year, there has been a shift in the way Jordan deals with drug smuggling operations to Syria, and at a time when military officials from Amman spoke of a change in the "rules of engagement", others announced, a few days ago, that their country was fighting an "undeclared war".
And he seemed to notice, during the past week, the ideas and analyzes published by former Jordanian writers and officers, as they indicated in their articles on Jordanian media the involvement of military groups affiliated with the Syrian regime in facilitating smuggling operations, especially the formation of the "Fourth Division" and other militias affiliated with Iran and " Lebanese Hezbollah.
Simultaneously, figures from the Jordanian military establishment, including Colonel Zaid al-Dabbas, spoke of "new tactics for smuggling operations, such as those of organized crime."
Al-Dabbas told AFP that those responsible for the operations are now using "advanced vehicles, as well as unmanned aircraft," noting: "The most dangerous thing we have noticed recently is the presence of armed groups alongside smugglers."
Security and political contextsMost of the analyzes of observers indicate that the "issue of drug smuggling" from Syria to Jordan has become a real danger to the latter, which prompted it to adopt a new policy.
This policy, in its general form, is still "military", far from any political contexts, especially since Jordan had recently taken a sudden stride in the direction of the Syrian regime, in an effort to repair relations with it, after years of stagnation.
The Jordanian strategic security expert, Omar Al-Raddad, considers that the escalation in smuggling operations is "related to security and political contexts within the Syrian leadership."
It also reflects "a governance crisis at the military and security levels, including a conflict of loyalties between Moscow and Tehran."
Al-Raddad spoke to Al-Hurra website about two "variables" related to the prevailing situation on the borders, which are "the control of the Syrian government and the Syrian army over the areas of Daraa Governorate."
The second variable is that the escalation of smuggling came after “the improvement in relations between the Jordanian and Syrian governments, which were translated politically, security and economically through security and economic meetings, which resulted in the opening of borders and crossings between the two sides, and agreements on gas and electricity supplies from Jordan to Syria and Lebanon.”
"Two levels"Syrian and Jordanian officials held talks on border security in July last year, after Syrian regime forces seized opposition-held areas along the Jordanian border.
Despite these talks and the arrival of Assad's forces to sites along the border, smuggling did not stop, but on the contrary, it greatly escalated, as shown by official Jordanian data.
So far, Amman does not explicitly accuse the Syrian regime of being behind the smuggling operations, which raises questions about the reasons for this? And whether it will change in the next stage?
Al-Raddad, who is also the director general of the Third Way for Strategic Consultations, clarifies that Jordan is dealing with this escalation on two levels.
The first level focuses on the military and security confrontation with the smuggling gangs, while the other withdraws to "coordinating with the Syrian leadership and agencies and exchanging information with them, especially since it is established that the problem is inside Syria despite its threat to Jordanian security."
Al-Raddad believes that "Jordan is betting on the capabilities of the Syrian government and its agencies to control its borders with Jordan and limit smuggling operations."
For his part, the Syrian researcher at the "Omran Center for Strategic Studies", Nawar Shaaban, points out that "the market for drug smuggling from Syria to the Gulf via Jordan existed before."
He explained to Al-Hurra: "Now the borders are controlled, and this led to the discovery of the scale of smuggling operations in its true form."
Shaaban believes that the return of Iranian militias and Syrian regime forces to the borders "contributed to security breaches, which was reflected in facilitating the entry of smugglers," ruling out that the escalation of smuggling would affect Amman's relations with Damascus, saying: "I see that the Syrian regime is using this file as a gateway to cooperation."
This is confirmed by the strategic security expert, Omar Al-Raddad, saying: "I do not think that this escalation in smuggling operations will negatively affect Amman's relations with Damascus."
But if it continues, or if facts are available confirming that Damascus, far from the approaches to the conflict between the centers of Syrian power, is targeting Jordan, "things will certainly change, and Jordan will have a decisive position on the Damascus government," according to the same spokesman.
"Hezbollah-linked groups"The "Syrian Observatory for Human Rights" had accused the Lebanese Hezbollah and figures associated with the Syrian regime of facilitating drug and arms smuggling operations to Jordan.
According to his extensive investigation, published last week, the operations of drug smuggling, cutting weapons and people smuggling towards Jordan began to escalate after the regime forces and militias loyal to them took control of the Jordanian-Syrian borders, years ago, especially the rugged mountainous desert of As-Suwayda.
Regarding the source and destination of the shipments, the investigation states that "the aim of smuggling drugs to Jordan is to deliver them to the Arabian Peninsula," revealing that the party involved are armed groups affiliated with the Lebanese Hezbollah militia.
The Observatory pointed out that the shipments leave from the Baalbek region in Lebanon, to the outskirts of Qalamoun, and then to the As-Suwayda Governorate in southern Syria, all with the protection of armed groups loyal to the regime and affiliated with Hezbollah.
But a political analyst based in Damascus, Alaa Al-Asfari, said that the accusations related to the issue of drug trafficking and smuggling are "politicised."
Asfari added to Al-Hurra: "Syria is a geographical crossroads, and it is in the middle of many continents, and therefore it is a transit crossing. During the war, there were many gangs engaged in this trade and were active on all borders."
"There may be drug dealers in Syria motivated by necessity, and it is natural to see deviants in this path," according to the political analyst: "There are efforts by the Syrian Ministry of Interior and the Anti-Narcotics Branch to arrest dealers, promoters and smugglers."
Asfari continues: "Syria is continuing to fight drugs and more discipline on its borders. There is a great deal of interaction between the agencies in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. A month ago, the phenomenon has subsided, and we are on the way to eliminating it."
"parties involved"Over the past years, Syria has become, in the eyes of Arab and Western countries, a "drug state", and this is linked to the large number of shipments that exited from it and crossed the borders to reach Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and further countries, such as Italy, Greece and Romania.
These shipments ranged between "Captagon pills" and "stop cannabis", while the ways of smuggling them varied. Sometimes in milk cartons and tea leaves, and sometimes in cardboard rolls, egg dishes and fruit pods.
According to security reports from several countries, the Syrian regime is considered primarily responsible for smuggling and manufacturing the contents of these shipments, which gradually turned into a "great commercial gain", with economic benefits for it on the one hand, and for the Lebanese "Hezbollah", whose agents are spread in separate areas. Inside Syria, on the other hand.
The Jordanian expert, Omar Al-Raddad, confirms his belief that there is "coordination between the Jordanian and Syrian sides on the military and security levels."
He says, "There is a Jordanian realization that parties in the Syrian leadership are behind the smuggling operations, which have taken new means, including advanced weapons and mechanisms, in addition to using drones."
Leaks have been reported in Syrian circles indicating armed clashes between gangs and smuggling militias that are affiliated with well-known military formations of the Syrian army, and others affiliated with the Lebanese Hezbollah.
The expert adds that this "was also confirmed by the statements of the official spokesman for the Jordanian army, in which he said that some Syrian army points in the border area are cooperating with smugglers."
On January 27, the Jordanian army had announced the killing of 27 smugglers in a clash while they were trying to enter the kingdom from Syria, and this confrontation was the "deadliest", while three other smugglers were killed in separate operations this year.
Jordanian Colonel Zaid al-Dabbas noted that about 160 groups of drug traffickers operate in southern Syria near the border with Jordan.
For his part, Colonel Mustafa Al-Hiyari, Director of Military Information for the Jordanian Armed Forces, told Jordanian media that they had seized large quantities of illegal drugs since the beginning of the year.
This included 17,348 packages of cannabis and more than 16 million Captagon pills — compared to 15.5 million pills in all of 2021 and 1.4 million pills in 2020.