Aggressive messages from al-Assad to Jordan coincide with the Bahrain Summit

King Abdullah II of Jordan mounts a Jordanian military armored vehicle during exercises (Jordanian Armed Forces)

King Abdullah II of Jordan mounts a Jordanian military armored vehicle during exercises (Jordanian Armed Forces)


Simultaneously with the attendance of the Syrian regime president, Bashar al-Assad, at the Arab Summit in Bahrain on Thursday, May 16, a routine drug smuggling attempt towards Jordan resulted in the death of smugglers and the seizure of “large quantities” of drugs.

The Jordanian Armed Forces stated that they managed to thwart a drug smuggling attempt at the eastern border with Syria during a security operation that resulted in the killing of two smugglers.

The official website of the Jordanian Armed Forces, on Thursday, May 16, published a statement attributed to an unnamed military source reporting that the Eastern Military Region thwarted an infiltration and smuggling attempt of “large quantities” of narcotic substances coming from Syrian territory.

The smuggling operation itself was not unique in terms of the event, but its timing was peculiar as it coincided with Bashar al-Assad’s attendance at the Arab Summit in Bahrain, which he had managed to return to mid-last year under understandings with prominent Arab countries, including Jordan.

The most notable items resulting from these understandings were the reduction of drug smuggling operations towards Jordan and the Gulf states. Committees and meetings were formed afterward to stop the smuggling operations, but they were not fruitful.

A day before the 33rd Arab Summit’s events, Jordanian security sources revealed to Reuters an attempt by factions supported by Iran to send weapons to a cell inside Jordan via Syria.

While Jordanian sources confirmed that most of the smuggled weapons were destined for the West Bank, some were allocated for use in Jordan.

According to Jordanian sources, the aim of the “plot” was “to destabilize Jordan, which could become a regional flashpoint as it hosts a US military base and shares borders with Israel as well as Syria and Iraq.”

Timing of the messages

Hours after Jordan announced the seizure of a drug shipment on its border with Syria, the US Embassy in Syria on, Friday, May 17, stated that the regime is the main driver of Captagon smuggling.

It added that through the law suppressing the illegal trafficking of Captagon and other tools, the United States is working to enhance accountability for the regime’s illicit activities and confront the destabilizing impact of drug smuggling in the region.

This was preceded by hours of skepticism expressed by the US State Department about the Syrian regime president, Bashar al-Assad’s willingness to take steps towards a political solution in Syria, and called on Arab countries to pressure him to achieve “meaningful change.”

Amer al-Sabaileh, a strategic expert and non-resident researcher at the Stimson Institute in Washington, told Enab Baladi that the timing of the latest smuggling operation carries symbolism that contradicts what was expected from the regime.

He added that it was not supposed to happen by the regime simultaneously with the Arab Summit, with the implication that drug smuggling operations from its territory towards neighboring countries had indeed stopped, especially since a full year had passed since his return to the Arab League. Thus, it was assumed that the results of this return would be showcased.

Al-Sabaileh believes that stopping drug smuggling at this time was supposed to elevate the regime’s relationship with the Arabs to a new level, considering that everything that happened previously was part of a trust-building process among the parties, but that did not happen as the smuggling activity did not cease.

More costly for Jordan

The latest drug smuggling operation, and the “Iranian plot” previously talked about by Jordanian sources to Reuters, are small parts of a long context of smuggling operations that Jordan has long complained about. Jordan had previously accused the regime, in collaboration with Iran’s agents in southern Syria, of managing drug smuggling operations.

For Jordan, drug and arms smuggling operations were not just routine operations towards it, researcher Amer al-Sabaileh believes. Since last year, Amman has begun to pay a human cost from its armed forces in confronting these smuggling operations.

He added that the smuggling and “aggressive operations” originate from Syrian geography, and it cannot be considered that the regime does not control this geography, attributing the activity to Iran only.

The researcher finds it difficult to consider today that the year which was supposed to assess Syria’s return to the Arab League as positive, especially considering that drug smuggling activity increased in recent months.

Jordanian restlessness

Jordan has repeatedly expressed its discontent over the past year about smuggling operations from Syria, with statements from both former and current Jordanian officials accusing the Syrian regime of managing these operations.

In an article published by Jordan’s Al-Ghad newspaper in September 2023, the former Jordanian Minister of Information, Samih Maaytah, reviewed the challenges his country faces, stating, “The drug war led by Iran and its proxies in Syria, along with the regime, continues.”

Maaytah also previously accused the Syrian regime of being directly involved in drug smuggling.

During an interview with Qatar’s Al Jazeera channel, he stated, “The Syrian regime talks in a procrastinating language, and al-Assad said in an official meeting that we have corruption and bribery and are unable to control, but this talk is not true.”

He added, “A state that claims it has won the war and defeated the opposition cannot prevent this, which is illogical,” considering that “Captagon is an economy for the ‘Syrian state,’ the regime, the president’s immediate family, and militias and institutions in the army.”

Jordanian journalist Malik al-Athamneh, following a meeting with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Jordan, spoke of what he called a “real war” being waged by the Jordanian army along the border with Syria.

He added that the Jordanian army is capable of countering smuggling operations to this day, but the real exhaustion lies in the other side’s ability, which “might be called the enemy,” to continuously upgrade its “enormous” technological capabilities—a feat only a country like Iran can achieve.

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

Safadi recently said during an interview with America’s CNN network, that many parties have suffered from the consequences of what he described as “the Syrian crisis,” including Jordan, and they will ensure all necessary actions are taken to mitigate threats to their country’s security.

The Jordanian minister firmly commented on the ongoing issue of drug smuggling from Syria towards his country, saying, “We do not take drug smuggling lightly.”



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