Jordanian authorities thwart major drug smuggling operation linked to Iran-backed militias

Jordanian authorities successfully thwarted a significant drug smuggling operation, arresting members of two groups linked to regional drug smuggling networks. The Jordanian Public Security Directorate stated that after two months of intelligence and operational efforts, the individuals involved were arrested, and the narcotics were seized. 

Authorities seized 9.5 million Captagon pills and 143 kilograms of hashish hidden in heavy machinery, prepared for smuggling through the Omari crossing into Saudi Arabia. Jordanian officials have directly implicated Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iran-backed militias – which dominate a significant portion of southern Syria – as the masterminds behind the surge in the lucrative drug and arms trade, valued at billions of dollars. 

Since 2020, Jordan has been grappling with a surge in cross-border drug trafficking, with Captagon emerging as a major concern. This illicit trade has placed considerable strain on Jordan’s security and law enforcement resources and raised domestic concerns about the economic and social impacts of narcotics. Additionally, Amman is aware of the potential regional repercussions, especially regarding its relationship with the Gulf Cooperation Council states, where many of these drugs are destined. Jordan fears that the continuous flow of drugs through its territory could lead to a situation like Lebanon, which has repeatedly failed to control drug smuggling, resulting in the GCC states downgrading their relations with Beirut. 

Since October 7, there has been an increase in drug smuggling from Syria into Jordan. According to a tally conducted by FDD, there have been 12 instances in which Jordanian authorities clashed with smugglers attempting to infiltrate Jordanian territory. This increase represents a shift in smuggling methods. Iran-backed groups have systematically organized these operations. Officials have indicated that during each attempt at Jordan’s northern border, these groups have engaged a large number of Jordanian forces to exhaust them and find a breach. When they cannot find a breach, they resort to using weapons, and if repelled, they use other methods, such as drones. 

The implications of increased Captagon smuggling from Syria into Jordan are twofold. First, it could adversely affect the kingdom’s youth population and broader social cohesion. Second, it positions Jordan as a transit point for drugs, which could impact its relationships with neighboring countries. Both implications serve Iran’s interests and ambitions to create instability in Jordan, a close ally of the U.S. and Israel. Iran-backed groups have also begun to utilize weapons such as RPGs and rocket launchers to confront border guards and security forces, aiming to weaken these agencies and the Jordanian state. 

Jordanian authorities have been quiet about the possibility of these groups having affiliations inside Jordan. However, an examination of some of the smugglers’ names, likely trained by Iran-backed militias in southern Syria, reveals familial and tribal links. The smugglers belong to specific tribes repeatedly involved in most detected cases. Tribes such as Al-Ramthan and Al-Masa’id exploit their familial connections across the border to store the smuggled drugs. Officials say about 90 percent of the smuggled Captagon is stored in the Jordanian village of Manshiyat Al-Ghayath, located on the main road leading to Iraq. 

These tribes are likely acting for material gain rather than ideological purposes. Historically, smuggling has been a source of income for these individuals, although it was previously limited to livestock and cigarettes and did not involve clashes with Jordanian authorities. The new reality is that these individuals have been extensively trained in combating the Jordanian armed forces, posing significant pressure on the kingdom’s stability, which benefits Iran and its proxies on the border. 

Jordan’s normalization with Al-Assad came in response to the increasing smuggling in the border region. While the Syrian regime has failed to thwart these attempts and continues to tolerate these networks, Jordan is left to combat this phenomenon alone, protecting its national security and preserving its regional relationships. Jordan has conducted airstrikes on southern Syria multiple times, targeting infamous drug lords. Despite these efforts, attempts to infiltrate Jordan’s borders continue. With no indications of reducing the threat of Iran’s proxies in the region, Jordan’s national security remains at stake. Given the region’s continued instability, Jordan needs assistance securing its border against this looming threat. 

Ahmad Sharawi is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies focused on Iranian intervention in Arab affairs and the levant.

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