Drugs & Asymmetrical Warfare

 

Early one morning last week [16th of November '21] an interesting news piece crossed my desk: Later that very same morning a friend of mine, out of sheer coincidence, passed me a small sheaf of news-clipping from one of his holidays to America. The commonality between these - drugs.

My friend spends much time travelling in the ‘States and the undated clippings relate to events circa 2005 in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande some two-and-half hours from San Antonio. This town, just a short stroll across the international bridge from where my friend was staying in Laredo, was a haven for drugs cartels, dealers and corrupt cops who ruled the poor pathetic and cringing population with nightly terror. One undated story from The San Antonio Express News clipping told the story of the smiling Governor of Tamaulipas State, Eugenio Hernández Flores,[1] accompanied by mainly male officials, strolling down the tourist drag, the legendary Guerrero Avenue, talking to store holders, pinching babies on the cheek and posing for photographs with American tourists. Despite the terrified population and the estimated 70 executions that year alone, Hernandez repeated the mantra that everyone intoned as a badge of safety:

Here, the person who behaves well has nothing to fear: The one who beaves badly is the one who needs to take care. We are all together here now with clean hands and because of that it is very peaceful.[2]

This, despite the scores of kidnappings, torture and summary executions by corrupt police and the outright warfare between the ‘Zetas’ [paramilitaries hired by the Gulf Cartel] and the ‘soldiers’ of the rival Sinaloa Cartel. The same article recounts that at least 80 Nuevo Laredo police officers had been recently fired for failing background checks; and that the entire police department was prohibited from working the streets since at least one officer fired at a convoy of federal agents sent there in the wake of the killing of Alejandro Dominguez the new police chief!

My friend loves to regale his visitors of his experience of eating dinner at a small bistro in Nuevo Laredo with his then wife one evening, listening to one of the ubiquitous Mariachi Bands, when a car with loud speakers drove down the street broadcasting, in Mexican, very loudly. The band melted away and the owner, looking harassed and most apologetic suggested that ‘Sir and Madam’ might like to leave their dinner and recross the bridge. Being an ex-serviceman with a ‘feel for atmosphere' he tipped his wife’s unfinished margarita onto the dirt and they beat a hasty retreat across the bridge to their hotel. From their balcony, romantically overlooking the Rio Grande, sipping a few drinks, they watched the ensuing firefight across the border in high wonderment. He said it reminded him of Viet Nam in surreal replay.

Moving on from yesterday’s Gothic Mexico to today’s Grim Middle East. The news article that crossed my desk that day intrigued me; entitled Hezbollah's Drug Cartel Branch, it was prepared by the Alma Research & Education Center in Israel.

Whatever one’s opinion on the question of Israel vis-a-vis peace and stability and the Middle East, I don’t think there can be any denying that it remains a pivotal geopolitical problem of our time? Indeed, it is a prime example of one of the buzz words so beloved of the modern military and writers on strategic matters – ‘asymmetric warfare’.

For those uninitiated in this in-term it may be simply defined as warfare between opposing forces which differ greatly in military power and that typically involves the lesser power using unconventional weapons and tactics such as those associated with guerrilla warfare and terrorist attacks in order to minimise its own risks.  In other words, it is warfare as old as the hills between two forces of unequal raw power.

The article I received from Alma is detailed and free to be distributed. I consider it to be of critical significance so I have produced my own, somewhat edited and enlarged version, complete with my own observations. I pay full acknowledgement to the original which may be read at Sarit Zehavi Alma Research & Education Center s.zehavi@israel-alma.org

It is unsurprising that the radical Islamic Shiite axis in the Middle East is working on a strategy to strengthen and increase its offensive power against Israel from bases in Syria and Lebanon. The Iranians, through their Quds Force[3], are coordinating and working closely with various Shiite militias and Hezbollah to place advanced weapons of war on Syrian and Lebanese soil. These include precision guided surface-to-surface missiles, cruise missiles and UAVs[4]. These constitute the valid formal weapons of war.

They are however increasingly adding to their arsenal another weapon of attack – the "weapon" of drugs.

Drugs are, for all intents and purposes, another valid weapon of war. They have been used for centuries as stimulants for troops. To be reminded of this one needs only to think of the etymology of the much feared ‘Assassins’. During the Second War they were used widely by all sides as stimulants to stave off sleep and so forth.

To return to the Middle East, Hezbollah and the other proxies of the Shiite Axis, receive a three-fold benefit through their drug trade. Firstly, and quite obviously, they may be used as a direct weapon against the population of enemy countries and against a local hostile population.

Secondly and not inconsiderably, drugs constitute a major source of income, and thirdly and indirectly, drugs provide a platform supporting terrorist activity in the target countries: Consider the smuggling of weapons through or based upon drug smuggling routes together with the drugs themselves as an economic incentive and/or as a substitute for money.

Alma and other Israeli agencies have recently reviewed several publications about the thriving drug manufacturing and smuggling industry in Syria. This industry operates under tripartite aegis of the Syrian regime, the Shiite axis and Hezbollah in particular. Although the production processes often take place in Lebanon, Syrian territory serves as the geographical platform for smuggling and also as a production platform.

Alma reports that the raw materials come mostly from Lebanon’s Bekaa area near the Syrian border. However they also come from Iran itself via Iraq. Having reviewed many publications on this subject, Alma determined to focus on researching the drug industry of Iran and Hezbollah in southern Syria.

Their report reviews the various smuggling routes from southern Syria to Jordan, from where the drugs are distributed to Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Far East, and from there to Africa and Europe.

The Alma study focused on, among other things, the geographical interface between Lebanon and southern Syria. This area has become a land smuggling corridor that includes a number of specific smuggling routes and production sites in southern Syria [mainly of synthetic stimulant pills similar to Captagon]. Furthermore the study focussed on the air-to-land corridor supplying raw materials direct from Iran. 

The report details a number of prominent Lebanese figures related to the production and distribution of narcotics together with dozens of local Syrians who serve as traffickers and smugglers. Moreover, the report identified two Syrian haulage companies collaborating with Hezbollah in transporting the drugs and the raw materials through the much-vaunted ‘Underground Road’ - the sophisticated network of tunnels under the borders.

In the course of Alma’s ongoing monitoring of the regional events, they are able to monitor at least one large drug smuggling event every month that is thwarted on the common border with Syria and Jordan. To this end, it invites the reader to question the scale, the economics and the success or otherwise of these highly organised drug smuggling operations.

It is axiomatic that there has always been a strong link between drugs and terrorism. It is a most profitable way to raise money, think IRA. Unfortunately, given human nature, more often than not the capital enterprise becomes the end in itself. Again, think criminal elements of the IRA.

The activity of the drug platforms in southern Syria enables the activities of the terrorist platforms against Israel. Thus, intelligence gathering about drug smuggling will be used as intelligence about future terrorist activities. Those involved in manufacturing, distributing, and smuggling drugs are indubitably the same people likely to carry out future terrorist activities or arms smuggling for such terror activity inside Israel. Moreover, it is critical to remember that the cash from drugs is used to fund terrorism. Given my observations above about human nature, it will only be a matter of time when they will become sheer criminal activities per se.  

At this point I find it profoundly interesting to note the interrelationship between Islamic religious opinion on drugs and the operational terrorist dependency upon the trade.

Senior Hezbollah figures and Shi’ite clerics speak out against the “drug plague”, raising the need to denounce drugs in order to protect civil society. Hassan Nasrallah[5] himself has frequently spoken out on the drug issue. In 2016, Nasrallah spoke before the council of the Ashura[6], emphasizing the growing danger of the drug plague, and the need to combat it and prevent the corruption of society’s values: “People face dangers no less important than the security threat, including drugs”, Nasrallah stated. “We can wake up to a very big disaster, and the number of drug addicts is terrifying. I appeal to the drug dealers, stop killing and destroying teenagers… the drug issue is one of the hardest to deal with”.[7] 

In 2018, Nasrallah responded to accusations about Hezbollah’s drug trafficking. He categorically denied the accusations, claiming that: “Hezbollah has a very clear religious position that drug trafficking is forbidden and it is a great sin. We forbid drug trafficking”.[8] 

Herein is a critical contradiction. Nasrallah neglected to mention that religious rulings by Shi’ite clerics allow the dealing of narcotics intended for other nations considered to be hostile. As far as Hezbollah is concerned, the drug industry is also a vital economic business that contributes to the organization’s budget, as well as a religious decree against various peoples, religions, and communities, with the recipient of the drugs being, Sunni Muslims (Saudi Arabia, the Gulf nations and in Syria itself), Christians (Europe, South America, the United States) and Jews (Israel).

Alma categorically states that Hezbollah does not really act against the drug industry, despite its senior figure’s statements. The drug industry is an integral part of Hezbollah’s activities worldwide and is one of its main financial incomes.

Southern Syria is considered a strategic area for the radical Shi’ite axis headed by Iran in general and for Hezbollah in particular. The development of the drug infrastructure in this region pays off twice: It enables economic maintenance of Iran’s proxies in the region (which produces terrorism against Israel) while also increasing the potential smuggling routes and the amounts of smuggling to the east (and from there to other critical parts of the Western world).

Consequent to the reconquering of southern Syria, the radical Shiite axis led by Iran established a military and civilian presence in the region thereby taking control of it. This control included the development and empowerment of the drug smuggling routes, as well as the development and empowerment of Hezbollah’s drug production industry in southern Syria. The ongoing narcotics scheme in southern Syria allows the radical Shiite axis to generate a monetary benefit for those who cooperate with it in terms of military and civilian entrenchment. The radical Shi’ite axis has created and empowered economic solutions able to finance its activities in the form of the drug industry, irrespective of western sanctions.

The narcotics economy and its benefit for the proxies of the radical Shiite axis cannot be overstated. Iran directly or indirectly controls 36 local militias in southern Syria that operate as mercenaries. These militias are a central pillar of the drug industry. They deal in smuggling, distribution, manufacturing, trade, and security.

Additional to these are the foreign Shi’ite militias operating under the Quds Force, local Syrians, members of the Golan File proxy unit, as well as Lebanese Hezbollah operatives belonging to hajj Hashem’s Southern Command unit – all of which are involved in the drug industry in southern Syria, benefiting greatly both economically and operationally.

From the foregoing it is readily discerned that ‘Drugs’ are not only big business but significant ‘Geopolitical Determinants’ as well. Every dollar spent on some so-called ‘recreational drug’ has a long-spun offshoot somewhere. I started this essay with a Gothic story of drug warlords and their sheer greed and rapine in Mexico. Fast forward fifteen years and we find the modern Middle Eastern warlords are morally supported by pious clerics. Look to the present and regular news stories of drug generated gangland shootings in our own capital cities. Drugs, all drugs, be they illegally acquired prescription drugs, so-called ‘recreational’ drugs sold at parties and ‘raves’ and the current epidemic of dubious origins  crystal-meth [Methamphetamine] all have consequences. By purchasing same you could be enriching terrorists, organised international crime, a growing local crime culture or some back-yard scum that couldn’t give a toss about the quality of his product. The end result is the same – to the foregoing all lives are expendable - including yours.

I have, all my life, been nonplussed at those that wilfully ingest something whose provenance they know nothing about. I have been witness to countless gormless idiots who ‘just smoke a bit of dope’ and who after a joint ‘of good stuff’, are simply a waste of space. The idea of snorting, injecting, shoving up my anus or committing any other unedifying physical act in order to get a purely chemically induced ‘high’ is, in its simple linguistic purity, up there as being one of the most stupid acts a person can do.

I suppose the fact that so many do explains, in part, my life-long intolerance of dimwits.      

30 November 2021

Ends

Words 2,468

[1] Wikipedia:  Eugenio Javier Hernández Flores (born October 17, 1959 in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas), is a Mexican politician affiliated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party. He was the mayor of Ciudad Victoria from 2001 to 2004 and Governor of the state of Tamaulipas from 2004 to 2010, and was also federal deputy in 2000 and coordinator of the Financial Committee of Tomas Yarrington during his campaign. On May 27, 2015, he was indicted on charges of money laundering alongside his brother-in-law Oscar Gomez Guerra by the United States Department of Justice.

 [2] Press Clipping: The San Antonio Express News. Jesse Bogan and Dan Schiller. c.2005. “Tamaulipas governor attempts to be a border tourist attraction”.

 [3] The (Persian: نیروی قدس ‎, romanized : niru-ye qods, lit. 'Jerusalem Force') is one of five branches of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) specializing in unconventional warfare and military intelligence operations.

 [4] Unmanned aerial vehicles

[5] Lebanese cleric and political leader who serves as the 3rd secretary-general of Hezbollah.

[6] An Islamic holiday