Drugs is a gateway for arms smuggling from Syria to Jordan

A Jordanian soldier during the Eager Lion drills held by the US in northern Jordan - September 2022 (Jordanian Armed Forces)

A Jordanian soldier during the Eager Lion drills held by the US in northern Jordan - September 2022 (Jordanian Armed Forces)


An increase in drug smuggling operations from Syria to Jordan has been reported over the past ten days, according to Jordanian authorities. However, these operations have become more violent, as Jordanian border guards have repeatedly clashed with smugglers, resulting in casualties among the Jordanian army and the smugglers.

The latest of these operations occurred today, Monday, December 18, as reported by Jordanian media outlets such as Jordan TV and Al-Mamlaka TV channel. A responsible military source at the General Command of the Jordanian Armed Forces (not named) stated that clashes took place on the border with Syria to thwart the smuggling operation of “large quantities” of drugs, automatic and missile weapons.

The source explained that the past few days have witnessed an increase in the number of operations, which have transformed from infiltration and smuggling to armed confrontations, with the aim of forcefully crossing the border by targeting the border guards.

This clash marks the fifth of its kind this month, as the Jordanian authorities announced on the 5th, 12th, 14th, and 15th of the same month clashes that took place between their forces and armed smugglers, resulting in the deaths of a Jordanian soldier and an unspecified number of smugglers.

What lies behind this escalation?

Drug smuggling operations from Syria to Jordan are not limited to drugs alone. The issue of smuggling has come to be known as the “drug file,” as the region has witnessed years of smuggling of amphetamine drugs (Captagon) to Jordan and from there to the Arab Gulf states. Recently, there has been an increase in smuggling operations of weapons coming from Syria, according to Jordanian media reports.

The regime’s announcements about drug control operations within Syria have not convinced the affected countries of the regime’s non-involvement in this issue. Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, previously stated during a seminar at the SRMG research center that out of three attempts to smuggle drugs from the Syrian-Jordanian border, one succeeds.

During the Global Middle East Summit in New York City on September 20, King Abdullah II of Jordan expressed doubts about the Syrian regime’s ability to control “his country.” King Abdullah stated that he was unsure whether Bashar al-Assad is fully in control of the country, considering the major problem of drug and weapons smuggling to Jordan.

Strategic expert and non-resident researcher at the Stimson Center in Washington, Amer al-Sabaileh, stated to Enab Baladi that drugs are a “front” used to cover up arms smuggling operations to Jordan, pointing out that the smuggling is based on entering “high-quality weapons.”

He added that there are those who wish to turn Jordan into a “confrontation arena” to target Western interests, as it is now considered an important hub for the Western axis in the region.

The researcher believes that the party responsible for drug smuggling operations is considering turning Jordan into a “station for weapons smuggling and targeting Western interests, and creating turmoil in the region.”

Al-Sabaileh suggested that the pace of arms smuggling operations will continue to increase in the coming months to achieve the same strategy of targeting Western interests in Jordan.

Iran, its claws, and the regime

In an article published by the Jordanian newspaper Al-Ghad on September 24, former Jordanian Minister of Information Samih al-Maaytah stated in the context of reviewing the challenges facing his country that “the drug war led by Iran and its claws in Syria, along with the regime, continues.”

Al-Maaytah also accused the Syrian regime, in statements on September 8, of direct involvement in the issue of drug smuggling.

During an interview with Al-Jazeera TV network, al-Maaytah said that “the Syrian regime adopts a delaying tactic, and al-Assad mentioned corruption and bribery and admitted his inability to control, but this talk is not true.”

He added, “A state that claims victory in the war, defeating the opposition and everything, cannot prevent this! This is illogical,” considering that “Captagon” is an economy for the “Syrian state,” the Syrian regime, the direct family of the Syrian regime’s president, and militias and institutions in the regime’s army.

Jordanian journalist Malik al-Othamneh spoke after a meeting with the Chairman of the Jordanian Joint Chiefs of Staff about what he called a “real war” waged by the Jordanian army along the border with Syria.

He added that the Jordanian army is capable of confronting smuggling operations to this day, but the real depletion lies in the opponent’s ability, who can be called the “enemy,” to continuously upgrade its enormous technological capabilities, an upgrade that only a state like Iran can achieve.

What are Jordan’s options?

In May, Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ayman Safadi, hinted at the possibility of conducting a military operation in Syria to eliminate drug smuggling across the Syrian-Jordanian land border.

Safadi stated in a recent interview with CNN that many parties have suffered from the consequences of what he described as the “Syrian crisis,” including Jordan, and they will make every effort to mitigate threats to their country’s security.

The Jordanian minister expressed firmness in his response to the continuous drug smuggling from Syria to his country, saying, “We do not deal with drug smuggling lightly.”

Researcher Amer al-Sabaileh believes that Jordan has no choice but to use force in the face of the smuggling operations it is facing, even if it requires coordination with its allies to target the militias responsible for the smuggling operations within Syria.

Al-Sabaileh told Enab Baladi that Jordan cannot remain in a defensive position but must adopt what he called a “proactive position” to impose a preventive situation. This means that Jordan should not wait for an attack from Syria to respond but take a preemptive step to secure its borders and stabilize its internal situation.

Towards the West Bank in Palestine

In a brief analysis written by the anti-terrorism specialists at the Washington Institute for Research, Matthew Levitt and Lauren von Thaden, in April, it was stated that arms smuggling operations have seen a significant increase from Jordanian territories to the West Bank.

Like other markets, the black markets for arms trade in Jordan, fueled by smuggling based on supply and demand, operate in abundant demand, especially since Jordan is located at a crossroads in a region engulfed in conflicts and overflowing with weapons, according to the analysis. 

Weapons enter the kingdom from neighboring Syria and Iraq through long-standing smuggling routes, the analysis added.

The border crossing between Jordan, Syria, and Iraq was previously controlled by “jihadist” groups, which made it difficult to conduct patrols to control it. However, it seems that this situation has not improved after the Syrian regime regained control of some border areas, according to the analysis.

The analysts’ interviews concluded that the handgun was worth about $2,000 in Jordan’s arms market but sold for $5,000 in the West Bank.

In 2018, after the Syrian regime regained control of the southern region of Syria, Jordan’s Al-Mamlaka TV channel quoted an unnamed security source that the “Syria crisis” had caused an increase in the number of weapons in Jordan, and since its inception, had raised the rate of arms smuggling to 400%, or about 14,000 different weapons.

Jordan has more than one million “unlicensed” firearms, according to unofficial statistics reported by the Jordanian channel. These firearms range from hunting rifles and Russian Kalashnikov machine guns to hand grenades and remote detonation devices.

The Jordanian channel reported at the time that the smuggling operations “are carried out by individuals specialized in this field who have expertise in the geography of the region. This usually happens at unexpected times and in carefully chosen, unmonitored locations and secret border houses.”

It also added that the length of the border strip (which is about 380 kilometers) has contributed significantly to the increase in smuggling operations.


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