The special religious edict to distribute hard drugs as an ideological weapon in the war against Israel and the west probably originated in Iran. The Goal: to destabilize society and hit the youth. According to a western intelligence agency, in addition to selling drugs, Hizballah is involved in counterfeiting money using American machinery transferred to Iran in the past. A new assessment states that the terrorist attacks in buenos aires were carried out by local crime “contractors” hired by drug dealers tied to Hizballah.
In early May, not long after the snows began to melt in the mountains of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, thin wisps of smoke began to rise up above the central valley of Lebanon. This is an annual event: as winter ends and the drug smuggling routes to Asia are passable once more, the heroin distilling season begins again in the Beka valley.
Until four years ago, farmers in this part of Lebanon grew tens of thousands of acres of cannabis, used for the production of marijuana, as well as large quantities of opium poppies. However, the Lebanese and Syrian governments are currently cracking down on drug growers, so that farmers in the Beka valley are now concentrating on producing drugs from imported raw materials. During the winter, their work is sluggish, confined mainly to the distilling of cocaine for the European market from raw coca paste, which arrives from South America under Syrian protection by air and sea. When spring comes, however, the leading Asian and Lebanese drug dealers start to send large quantities of opium poppies from the fields of south-east and central Asia, and heroin production becomes the main priority. Heroin is currently regaining its position as the most popular drug in the world markets.
The raw material is a brown paste known as “morphine base,” and it comes from Turkey, directly or via Syria, to the large purification plants in the Beka valley of Lebanon, where it is transformed into white heroin or “Persian coke” (a lower-quality product).
Right now dozens of “laboratories” are being used to purify drugs in and around the towns of Balbek and Berital. To these one must add the small home laboratories which lay unused during the winter and are now renewing their activity to meet the demand for “White Death” in Western Europe, the U.S.A. and the Middle East.
This industry exports hard drugs to the tune of between $3-7 billion a year. In itself, this business is nothing new. Recently, however, intelligence information has been accumulating in the U.S. suggesting that this field has for a long time branched out from the international drugs scene to the work of the ideological, strategic and economic war being waged by Islamic extremism against the West in general and Israel in particular.
There is now reasonably reliable information, for example, showing that the Hizballah uses its drug connections on the international scene in order to carry out terrorist attacks outside Lebanon against Israel, the U.S. and other Western countries. The drug smuggling infrastructure is also exploited to circulate counterfeit banknotes throughout the world, with the intention of weakening the economies of the West. Even the act of exporting hard drugs to the West and to Israel is perceived as a way to destabilize the social fabric and resilience of the “corrupt Western societies.”
Another question currently being asked is whether Israel could exploit the drugs channels in order to fight the Syrian-backed Lebanese guerrilla movement more effectively than it has done to date.
The growth and production of hard drugs in Lebanon is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until the Lebanese civil war, which began in 1975, cannabis was grown in Lebanon and used for the production of high-grade marijuana, which the Lebanese saw as just another agricultural product, alongside cherries and grapes, which are also grown in great quantities in the Beka region. After the civil war virtually destroyed all other economic fields, however, the production of marijuana became a key import sector in which almost all the ethnic communities and forces involved in Lebanon played a part.
The turning point came when the Syrian army entered Lebanon in 1976 in order to restore order to the country. The Special Division (the Revolutionary Defense Corps) under the command of Rifat Assad, the Syrian president’s energetic brother, was placed in charge of the Beka valley. Rifat saw the cannabis fields and realized the financial potential of his complete control of the region. He allowed the farmers to grow opium poppies without restriction. Within less than ten years the percentage of cultivated land in the Beka valley used for growing drugs increased from 10% to 90%.
It is not enough to grow drugs. They must also be purified and exported by official and not-so-official air and sea ports, all of which were under the forceful control of Syrian officers and clerks. This led to the emergence of a complete business of bribery and protection money involving almost the entire Syrian administration. This impressive list is headed by such names as Mustafa Talas, the Syrian defense minister, who issued transmit permits for drug traders to use Syrian roads. These drug traders transported smuggled “Morphine Base” from the Turkish border to the Beka region of Lebanon, where it is purified. The purified heroin is then returned via Syria to Turkey, from where it is exported to Europe. Rifat Assad continued to be involved in drug trafficking through his sons after he left Syria and settled in Geneva in 1984. Other key names include the head of Syrian military intelligence, General Ali Duba, and the senior Syrian military representative in Lebanon, General Ghazi Kena’an.
In 1992-93, for example, when the Americans estimate that the Beka region produced approximately 720 tons of marijuana and approximately 15 tons of heroin per annum, the Syrian economy took a hefty slice of the profits, amounting to some $3-4 billion each year.
In 1993, however, Syria dramatically changed its attitude to the growing of opium and cannabis in Lebanon. Assad, who had previously not lifted a finger to stop the involvement of his country and his own senior staff in protecting this trade and providing transport facilities for drug dealers, decided — under strong pressure from the Clinton administration — to take serious action against the opium and cannabis growers in the Beka valley. Assad’s very clear goal was to achieve the long-desired removal of Syria from the State Department’s list of countries encouraging the export of drugs.
Assad appointed his (now-deceased) son Basal and General Ali Duba to head the campaign to destroy the drug crops. In the past (and to some extent even today) the Syrian and the Lebanese authorities used to carry out show- piece campaigns in which cannabis and poppies were destroyed before the Western television cameras, in order to free themselves of American pressure. Now, however, according to Western intelligence sources, Assad told his son to “eliminate the drug problem in Lebanon.”
Under Basal’s command, the Syrian troops and Lebanese policemen raided the drug fields of the Beka region, engaging in a thorough and systematic destruction of drug crops. However, a year after this campaign began, Basal — who had been earmarked by President Assad as his successor — was killed in a mysterious road accident. Basal was driving his Mercedes on the way to the Damascus airport in the early morning before dawn, when he suddenly swerved off the road. His car overturned and he was killed.
Intelligence information reaching the West recently has suggested that Basal’s road accident was actually a well-planned assassination ordered by Lebanese drug dealers as revenge against Basal (and as a warning to his father) for being over-zealous in their destruction of the Lebanese drug harvest.
Not only did Assad lose his beloved son, but Syria lost a charismatic and gifted successor who would one day have taken his place in the presidential palace.
>From 1993, the Syrians and the Lebanese authorities have engaged in the genuine destruction of much of the drug harvest, and have also severely limited the areas where new harvests may be grown. The American administration has responded in kind, awarding both countries substantial compensation (most of which will probably never reach the growers). Spokespeople for the American administration have sung the praises of the anti-drug campaign on every possible platform. Despite all this, Syria and Lebanon have still not been removed from the State Department’s list of drug exporters, since drug purification in the Beka region continues as in the past, and has even expanded. The Lebanese drug industry has simply shifted from an emphasis on the “agricultural production” of poppies and cannabis to “industrial manufacture” concentrating on the purification of drugs from heroin and cocaine bases imported from Asia and South America.
Dozens of laboratories are active in Lebanon, including full-scale industrial facilities as well as mobile home-based installations (located in strongly Shiite regions under the total control of Hizballah).
Interpol, for example, has stated that Lebanon is a world center for the storage and marketing of a chemical substance known as “acetyanhydride” — a vital component in the purification of heroin. Lebanon’s proximity to the European Union, and its location in the center of the Asian drug trade are additional advantages that make the country an attractive base for processing and exporting the finished drugs to consumers in Europe, the U.S., Canada and Australia.
This advantage even applies in the case of cocaine, which originates in South American countries such as Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. An intelligence source in the Israel Police states that a kilogram of heroin base (prior to purification) in the Beka region cost $8,000 – 10,000 last year. The price of a kilogram of purified heroin in Lebanon during the same period was $20,000, and the price of the same kilogram on the security fence when it is smuggled to Israel was in the range $25,000 – 35,000.
American sources estimate that during 1996 Lebanon exported approximately 60 tons of heroin and 100 tons of marijuana, with a total value of more than $12 billion. It is reasonable to assume that the Syrians pocketed a significant percentage of this sum, probably more than $1 billion.
Hizballah has pocketed a more modest amount — between several tens of millions of dollars and up to $200 million a year. The Islamic organization’s involvement in drugs began immediately after its establishment toward the end of the Lebanese war in 1982 as an Iranian initiative to oppose the Israeli occupation. Since most of the drug- growing areas in the Beka region of Lebanon are populated entirely by Shiite Muslims, the Hizballah rapidly became the main armed militia in these areas. Entire families, among the most respected and important in the movement, are associated with, and sometimes involved almost directly in all stages of production, transportation and marketing of drugs in the Beka and southern Lebanon (particularly Nabatiya).
However, Hizballah sees itself primarily as a social and political organization, not as an armed militia. Accordingly, and unlike the Syrians, it does not demand protection money (or it does so only on a limited scale). Hizballah receives its share of the drugs profits mainly through membership fees and donations from dealers, or from direct marketing. These two sources alone are enough to fund the health, education, religious and social services Hizballah provides to the Shiite population of Lebanon. These activities — which, in the southern neighborhoods of Beirut (the Dahaya) and in the Balbek region effectively replace the Lebanese government — give Hizballah its political power base.
But it does not end here. Hizballah has also recently become the political representative of the marijuana and opium producers of the Beka region, whose activities have been hampered by the Syrians and the Lebanese government. The leading spokesman for the growers, who claim that they have been deprived of their source of income and are not receiving the compensation from the U.S. or any other proper compensation, is none other than the former secretary of Hizballah, Sheikh Tufaili.
Tufaili’s militant stance in favor of the resumption of the large-scale growth of opium and cannabis in the Beka region is reported every day in the Lebanese press. Only the day before yesterday, Tufaili announced the “Rebellion of the Hungry” the expansion of drug growing and production in Lebanon and the refusal to pay attention to any restrictions. Recently reports even reached the West that growers have been encouraged by Tufaili and have received armed protection from Hizballah in recommencing their cannabis and opium crops in large areas of the northern Beka, in the Harmal region.
It is also known that disagreements emerged between Tufaili and Hassan Nasrullah, who replaced him as secretary of Hizballah. These serious disagreements almost caused a split in the movement. Intelligence reports reaching the West suggest that these disagreements were not ideological or personal, but concerned the Lebanese drug business that Tufaili sought to promote despite the wrath of the Syrians and the Hariri government, in order to promote the interests of the Shiite farmers. Nasrullah — a more cautious and moderate figure — saw the drug business mainly as an ideological weapon in the war against Israel and the West.
This aspect of the Hizballah’s drug activities — i.e. the movement’s use of the business and its commercial infrastructure as a weapon in its ideological war against the “Great Satan” (the U.S.) and the “Small Satan” (Israel), has been almost completely ignored in the media. The use of hard drugs is likely prohibited by the Koran, and drug trafficking must also be considered a sin. Accordingly, the leaders of the political and military wing of Hizballah made sure at an early stage that a religious “edict” was received, in the form of a Fatwa from religious leaders permitting the marketing and distribution of drugs in Israel and in the West in general. The express goal of this policy was to weaken resistance and encourage rapid social degeneration in these countries.
Further evidence of this objective can be found in ideological publications and material disseminated by Hizballah. It is not known which religious authorities published the permit allowing the distribution of drugs as an ideological weapon, but all the evidence suggests that they are Iranian Ayatollahs rather than Lebanese religious scholars.
Iranian influence can also be seen in another aspect of the ideological weapon used by Hizballah, and one that has hardly been mentioned until now: The counterfeiting of U.S. dollars and European currencies intended to disrupt Western economies by impairing international trade and tourism. These activities are also centered in the Beka region of Lebanon, in Balbek and Barital. “This is high-quality counterfeiting,” stated a recent report prepared by a Western intelligence agency for American decision makers. “It may reasonably be assumed that American machines for making bills sold and transferred to Iran in the past have reached the Beka region, and that the Iranians are involved in the counterfeiting business.”
It has emerged that Hizballah directly runs a large printing center in the town of Barital (in the drug purification area) producing large quantities of $100 bills, as well as German marks, and French and Swiss francs.
The Americans are very concerned by this development, and have been trying to halt the counterfeiting campaign for five years. They even established a special branch of the Secret Service — the section of the U.S. Treasury responsible for defending the national currency — with the objective of fighting this phenomenon. A delegation of the American administration visited Israel in connection with the campaign, but to date no real results have been achieved.
Not long ago, $100,000 in counterfeit bills was sent to Paraguay, in an attempt to distribute the money. It is unclear whether the attempt was successful, but the mere fact of this dispatch points to another way in which Hizballah is combining its drug trafficking with its ideological activities, namely terrorism.
It is well known that South America is home to a large population of Lebanese immigrants, many of whom are Shiites who identify with Hizballah or with the secular Shiite Lebanese movement Amal. Many of these Lebanese expatriates, by chance or otherwise, are involved in the drug trade. It was only natural that when Hizballah began to take control of the growth and export of drugs from the Beka region, they found sympathetic support among the Lebanese diaspora in South America.
A recent Interpol report notes that much of the cocaine base sent for purification in the Beka originated in Brazil, in the border regions with Argentina and Paraguay. Another important source of raw materials for the purification of cocaine, according to Interpol, comes from Venezuela; here, too, particularly in the island of Margarita, there is a Lebanese immigrant population that maintains drug trade links with Hizballah and forwards donations to the movement.
One area of concentration of Shiite Lebanese immigrants is in the triangle formed by the borders of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, around the city of Foz do Iguasu, close to the Iguasu waterfalls — the largest and most impressive in the world, and which attract millions of tourists each year. Most of the Lebanese immigrants in this region live in Paraguay, where law enforcement is extremely lax. A few years ago, I myself crossed the borders between the three countries at Foz do Iguasu repeatedly. Neither myself nor my luggage were ever examined.
A virtually unguarded border between three poor South American countries is an invitation to drug traffic and other underhand activities. One of these activities is evidently terrorism, by means of local contractors. A recent assessment by sources in the West suggest that both the explosions in Jewish and Israeli institutions in Buenos Aires were not carried out directly by the Iranians or Hizballah, but by local professional assassins hired as contractors by Hizballah in order to carry out the attacks.
Those who hired the local assassins were probably local Lebanese involved in the Lebanese drug trade and familiar with the local crime scene. This would also explain why those who carried out the attacks have not been discovered to this day.
It may be noted that Hizballah employs exactly the same method in another part of the world. After Goldstein’s massacre in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the organization used its contacts in drug circles in Thailand to place a booby-trapped truck outside the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok. This attack was foiled due to an accident in which the truck was involved on its way to the site, and due to a disagreement that emerged between the Thai contractors and those from Iran and Lebanon who ordered the “job.”
The facts detailed above raise a number of question marks concerning the way Israel has reacted to and used information about the drug trade in Lebanon and the implications of this business. Why have the Israeli security services not used the drug channel to secure information and carry out counter-terrorist activities? Is this not a regrettable failure?
Another question relates to the fact that Israel has refrained from reminding the Americans that it is their duty to apply pressure on the Syrians to uproot the drug scourge in Lebanon. The American administration walks on eggs shells in relating to the Syrian involvement in the drug trade, since it does not want to lose an important partner in dialogue in the Middle East or to push Syria away from the peace process. The question is whether this policy is wise, and whether Israel should not encourage the Americans to take a different approach that might soften the Syrian President’s attitude and encourage flexibility in the peace process, among other areas.
Finally, it must also be asked whether Israel could not have been more creative and used different methods to hit Hizballah in its pockets by impairing the export or even production of drugs, thus pressuring the organization to moderate its activities in southern Lebanon.
There is no need to go into detail, but it is no secret that Israel has imposed a naval siege on Lebanon several times, and has also acted on occasions against Hizballah facilities in the heart of the Beka region. Such actions, might win the gratitude of the Americans and Europeans, who have for some time had their eye on the Lebanese drug stores.
The Addict Son of the Head of Syrian Intelligence
In Lebanon and Syria, drug trafficking and even the extortion of protection money are considered not only a profitable business, but also one that brings honor to the individuals and families involved in this trade. The stigma attached to drug traders in the West becomes a status symbol and source of pride in the Levant.
Some of the most respected families in Lebanon, all of whose children are declared and well-known Hizballah supporters, such as the Abdullah family from Nabatiya, the Hamiya, Shams, Za’itar and other families, are involved in the drug trade and dutifully pay their tithes to the Islamic organization. This practice is not confined to Hizballah, however. Every ethnic community in Lebanon has highly respected representatives in the drug industry: for example, the Maronite Christian families Franjiya and Jumail, and the Druze Jumblatt family. Even the Palestinian faction led by Abu Nidal has its own drug purification plants that provide a useful income.
It is no surprise, then, that the founding generation of the Syrian- Lebanese drug industry and protection racket have raised a younger generation following in their parents’ footsteps. Firstly, one might mention Rawi Harari, the son of the Lebanese president, who is an international drug dealer. The list also includes Fars and Darir Al-Assad, the two sons of Rifat Assad (brother of the Syrian president), who combine drug trading in Europe with the marketing of stolen cars and weapons. Far more impressive in his activities is Muntazar Al-Kazar, a close associate of the president, whose father was involved in the drug trade when he served as an ambassador. Muntazar himself (currently in jail in Spain) has become a legend in his own life in the fields of drug trafficking, weapons dealing and involvement in terrorism.
Not all the younger generation have been so successful. Ali Duba, for example, the head of Syrian military intelligence — who was described by an American Congress report as “responsible for inventing the organized protection racket for Lebanese drug dealers” — was bitterly disappointed when one of his sons became a drug addict. His son was hospitalized on a remote farm in northeast Syria, but the shame and sorrow have cast a shadow over the family.