In late February, Western anti-narcotic enforcement agencies were surprised to hear from their agents in Lebanon that a group of Chinese drug lords had come on a visit to Lebanon’s northern Beqaa Valley, an area fully controlled by the Syrian army. The visitors also spent a few days in one of Beirut’s luxury hotels. The news was surprising because Chinese drug cartels have never before shown interest in the Middle East. Enforcement agencies however connect the visit to the increasing signs of a Chinese drive to expand their share of the world trade in synthetic drugs. One of the visitors was in fact identified as a head of the big heroin refining center in the Ho Tao area of the Wa Hills of Burma’s secessionist Shan State near China. The US DEA and CIA have long inferred that the Chinese drug lords play ball with the Chinese MSS intelligence agency. The visitors’ free and easy air during the tour of Syrian military zones and Hizballah-controlled parts of Lebanon gave rise to the suspicion that their visit was arranged through the government in Damascus.
This would be logical. In the last five years, the poppy fields of the northern Beqaa Valley have made Lebanon one of the largest and safest narcotic growing centers in the world. The entire production process from cultivation to export takes place under the full protection of the Syrian army, according to understandings dating from the early 80s. Last year, Lebanon earned about $18 billion from drug sales to other Middle East countries, Turkey and Europe. Some $3-4 billion of that revenue goes to the Syrian government and army, with large cuts for the Syrian defense minister Mustafa Tlas and chief of staff Gen. Aliy Aslan. The Lebanese drug industry is today Syria’s largest source of revenue. The officer directly commanding the units guarding the Beqaa poppy fields is the army intelligence chief, Gen. Gazi Kenaan.