Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.

How Much Did You Pay to Stop the Smuggling of Captagon?

Stories of Syria using Captagon as a bargaining chip to secure funds for reconstruction and regain its seat in the Arab League have been making the rounds ever since the country’s return to the Arab fold was announced. Normally, such false stories dissipate just as quickly as they emerged.

How much did you pay to stop the smuggling of Captagon? Nobody paid, nor will anybody pay a single dollar in exchange for a state’s return to the Arab League. No payment will be made to buy off any state that opposes such a return, either.

Returning to the Arab fold was a Syrian demand in the first place. Damascus believes it holds a rightful seat in the Arab League, much like the seats it still holds in international organizations, including the United Nations. Had the opposition seized power, it would have been sitting in that same seat.

Moreover, Syria’s stances and alignments have remained the same, which suggests its return will not impact the power balance in the region.

Instead, the thawing of relations with Damascus will lead to reconciliations, which in turn will lead to pacification in the region.

When Erdogan’s government reconciled with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, the positive impact was immediately clear in the resumption of tourism and trade and the halt in media wars. Yet no major change took place in the region, nor did the other wars stop.

As for Bashar al-Assad’s return to the Arab fold, all Arab states but three already have relations with Damascus, and the three that don’t will restore them soon. It is hoped that this regional reconciliation will support the return of most Syrians to their cities and villages.

However, it is unlikely that Damascus will get any payment in return for the “gains” of its return to the Arab League and restoring of relations, including the halt of Captagon smuggling to Saudi Arabia. In fact, such a reward would only incentivize other states to deal with smugglers with complacency in order to jeopardize those efforts.

The rewards that Syria gets from its cooperation to end drug trafficking are the resumption of legitimate trade, the lifting of sanctions, and the renewal of economic cooperation, which will serve both parties.

Complacent states that serve as source or transit countries for illicit goods such as narcotics or weapons eventually pay a hefty price, as their agricultural, industrial, and service exports are often restricted or even banned. The opposite holds true, as well: the absence of relations and economic trade fuels the complacency of these states, as they have no interests to protect.

As such, the most effective tool available for prosperous governments in the region remains economic sanctions, which allow them to close their borders to source or transit countries. With the help of armed forces, border patrols, and drug authorities, they can curb trafficking attempts by weak or failed states.

Smuggling might seem like a profitable industry, but there’s another edge to that sword. Iran has long been a transit country for narcotics like opium, heroin, cocaine, and hashish as they make their way from Afghanistan to the rest of the world.

This business afforded Iran some financial profit in a time of economic crisis, but it also destroyed two of the country’s assets.

Not only did drug use become rampant among Iranians, bordering a serious epidemic; but also, most states with whom Tehran had traditional relations banned its goods from crossing their borders.

For all its magnitude, the money made from the cross-border drug trade rarely benefits the national economy or society. In Afghanistan, Syria, and Lebanon, only the few groups involved in the trafficking made profits, while the state’s legitimate trade took a fierce blow when most Gulf states instituted bans on their exports.

Aside from the destructive impact the illicit drug trade has on the youth in those states, state security is also deeply affected.

Drug trafficking often engenders the emergence of organized gangs and terrorist organizations. Smugglers are also often involved in data collection activities; they also tend to smuggle and pick up arms and threaten local authorities.

To believe the smuggling of Captagon will immediately stop would be foolish. Drug trade and smuggling maestros will spare no effort to keep their business going. This is an ongoing war.