Jordan Land Borders a Smuggling Wasteland – A Brewing International Issue

Security Experts, Analysts Tell Majalla: Jordan Should Not Curb Smuggling Operations Alone

Jordanian-Syrian borders
Jordanian-Syrian borders

Jordan Land Borders a Smuggling Wasteland – A Brewing International Issue

The Jordanian military has been frequently announcing the breakout of armed clashes with smugglers who attempt to smuggle large quantities of drugs and weapons into its territory through the long southern land border with Syria.

In late October, the Jordanian army announced that its forces thwarted an attempt to smuggle drugs from Syria using a drone.

In the decade that preceded the outbreak of popular protests in Syria in March 2011, and the period when President of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad’s forces lost control over cities and border crossings, the rate of smuggling of drugs and weapons was lower, a prominent Jordanian political analyst told Majalla.

Political analyst and professor of international relations Dr. Hassan Momani said that the smuggling issue concerns the entire region, not only Jordan.

For instance, this issue has harmed ties between the Gulf and Lebanon, he stressed, adding that smuggling drugs and weapons from Syria via Jordan to several other Arab countries occurred before the decade-long civil war in Syria.

Political analyst and professor of international relations Dr. Hassan Momani

“However, the ongoing conflict has led to a security vacuum, especially on the land border crossings with Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, that are not all regulated.”

There are armed militias and sectarian groups near these borders that may take advantage of this process to finance their operations, Momani noted.

The long border makes it difficult for the professional and brave Jordanian forces to control it all, he said. Therefore, some smuggling operations may still be carried out, which represents a major problem for the internal security of the kingdom and its neighboring countries.

The war and sectarian or extremist militias emanating from it have contributed to the exacerbation of the smuggling issue between Syria and Jordan, Momani explained.

He pointed out that prominent Syrian regime figures are accused of being involved in smuggling weapons and drugs to Jordan, either for financial gain or to be used as a pressure tactic such as in the refugees and human trafficking issues, to force the neighboring countries to alter their public stance on the regime.

All regional countries complain about drug smuggling, including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Gulf states as well, the professor stressed.

He asserted that despite the political differences, the kingdom has coordinated with the regime forces, the Syrian opposition, during their presence at the borders and with Russians to control its borders and prevent smuggling operations.

“Nevertheless, the regime forces now fully control the border areas, so coordination is taking place with its security services and Russian presence.”

Forces of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran and Tehran-backed sectarian militias are deployed in Syria’s southern areas, limiting the capacity of the regime in this area, Momani warned.

In the security context, communication takes place between parties that hold power on the ground to maintain security. For this reason, Syria and Jordan’s governments held official talks to open the border crossing. Yet, during the war, coordination took place between Amman and the opposition forces in Daraa and its countryside.

Momani affirmed that Jordan is coordinating with international parties to resolve this issue.

In this regard, a Jordanian security official revealed that “small quantities of drugs and weapons were smuggled from Syria to Jordan during the period from 2006 until 2011,” a maximum of 20,000 Captagon pills.

But since 2011, the amount smuggled has increased significantly and has reached a peak by 2014.

He added that the increase in the amount of smuggled drugs was due to destabilizing security in Syria. Smugglers brought drugs from Lebanon to Syria and then towards the Syrian-Jordanian border.

As a result, Jordanian security services now seize millions of Captagon pills, the source said.

The Syrian crisis has contributed to providing new means of smuggling, the official noted, citing the Syrian-Jordanian border from As-Suwayda Governorate, where the smuggling operations of the drugs mainly brought from Lebanon are more frequent compared to Daraa.

The security official further affirmed that “arms smuggling operations between Syria and Jordan are almost negligible compared to drugs,” pointing out that most of the weapons smuggled are for personal use and used to attack the Jordanian security forces.

Jordanian political and security analyst Mohammad al-Malkawi

For his part, Jordanian political and security analyst Mohammad al-Malkawi said the “Syrian-Jordanian border crossing is the most active in smuggling operations in the Middle East region.”

Jordan is considered a corridor to smuggle all types of personal arms and drugs, he told Majalla.

“The land border crossing is a triangular area located between Syria, Jordan and Israel. It is mountainous, rugged, and has many valley, making it difficult to be fully controlled, which gives smugglers an advanced step in identifying the best route to smuggle their products.”

Malkawi indicated that Jordan and Israel fully control these areas, but the problem lies in the Syrian side of the border, in which regime and opposition forces, Iranian militias and Russian forces are deployed.

Iran and its affiliated forces on the Syrian side, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, are keen to keep this area weak, the analyst explained. Added to them are the smuggling gangs that wish to penetrate Jordanian territory to reach the Gulf.

He also stressed that “some smuggling gangs also try to penetrate the Israeli and Palestinian interior to secure an arms market. However, the kingdom ensures no such thing occurs through its lands, so it coordinates with various parties, including Israel and Palestine.

Jordan also has security ties with Saudi Arabia, Maklawi noted, warning that smuggling operations are causing serious concern regionally.

Last week, Republican Congressman French Hill and Democrat Brendan Boyle submitted a new bill to the US Congress demanding that the federal government “develop an interagency strategy to disrupt and dismantle narcotics production and trafficking and affiliated networks linked to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.”

In a joint statement, Hill and Boyle said: “Since 2018, narcotic production and trafficking in Syria has turned Syria into a narco-state to fund its crimes against humanity. It is important we stop this trafficking and source of illicit finance.”

“The US government must do all it can to disrupt the industrial level of drug production currently taking place in Syria,” they urged.

On October 21, an Eastern Military Zone unit shot down a drug-filled drone flown across the border from Syrian territory,” read a statement by the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF).

The drone was intercepted and shot down immediately by the ground forces, a JAF source said, adding that drugs were found after swiping the crash area, Jordan’s official news agency, Petra, reported.

The Syrian regime and its affiliated armed militias rely on drug trade to fund their military battles in the country. International reports indicate that Syria has emerged as the world’s capital for drug production.

Jordanian armed forces thwarted an attempt to smuggle Captagon pills shipment passing through the kingdom’s border crossing from Syria.

Also in October, authorities seized 800,000 Captagon pills on a fruit and vegetable shipment at the Nassib border crossing between Syria and Jordan.

A source at the border told pro-regime Al-Watan newspaper that the shipment came from Maarabah area in the Damascus countryside.

The refrigerated vehicle was detained and the case was referred to the competent authorities, he affirmed.

In August, Jordanian army units thwarted a large drug smuggling operation from Syria, according to official Jordanian military sources.

The forces implemented the rules of engagement and clashed with the smugglers. Some were injured, at least three were killed and others fled to the Syrian territory, Jordanian news agencies quoted the sources as saying.

Jordanian armed forces thwarted an attempt to smuggle 1,307,665 Captagon pills and 2,100 Lyrica pills hidden in two separate coffee shipments that were passing through the kingdom’s border crossing, the government announced.

According to a study by the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR) on Syria’s economy, the country has become the global epicenter of Captagon production. 

In 2020, Captagon exports from Syria reached a market value of at least $3.46 billion, the study affirmed.

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