Syria’s Secret Drug Transit Center in Aleppo Inhibits Town’s anti-Assad Revolt
Syria is using its vast earnings as a major transit hub of the worldwide narcotics traffic to fund its four-month old crackdown on protest. Its partner in the trade is the Lebanese Hizballah.
Secretly located inside a big military camp in eastern Aleppo are a dozen giant hangars, where hundreds of workers work around the clock sorting drug deliveries and repackaging them for smuggling overseas to the US, Europe, Asia and Latin America.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence and counterterrorism sources report that army tanks and military trucks are parked outside the camp as the façade of a military facility and camouflage for the activities within.
Hundreds of commandos from Syria's Presidential Republican Guard secure the camp's nearly 10 square kilometers and keep close watch on its entrances, exits and fences.
Detaching a large number of elite troops for the secret drug warehouses is no mean feat when Syrian President Bashar Assad needs every last loyal soldier available for suppressing the revolt against his rule.
The only change since the uprising began, our military sources report, is that whereas before, a permanent force was posted at the drug transit hub to preserve its secrecy, these days the guard force is rotated every four weeks, providing troops used to crack down on the opposition with a breather for rest and relaxation.
Inside the camp, Hizballah special units split into 10 teams of 30 fighters each guard the hangars and secure the merchandize and work force.
A second Hizballah force is responsible for transport. Dozens of armored trucks pick up drug consignments from the military airport near Aleppo and from trains rolling in with incoming batches landed in Damascus from outside the country, and deliver them to the hangars.
These trucks also ply the routes from the Lebanese Beqaa Valley's heroin and opium labs and Beirut International airport, where they collect drugs imported mainly from South America for marketing through Syria.
Up to $3 bn for bankrolling the crackdown on Syrian protest
Western intelligence and antinarcotics experts like the US Drug Enforcement Agency estimate that the Syrian-Hizballah drug trade nets an annual volume of up to $9-10 billion which is split many ways.
They are believed to be Assad's primary source of funding for his army operations against the rebels and also Hizballah's most important source of revenue. The protesters are known to have attacked this shared drug traffic only once. On July 22, tracks were removed from the Aleppo-Damascus railroad causing a train to skip the rails near Homs and burst into flames. In addition to 480 passengers, the train was carrying a drug shipment heading out to Damascus airport for loading on a plane to Europe.
Right after the attack, security around the military drug warehouses and train lines running out of the city were beefed up. Joint teams of Syrian-Hizballah special units were deployed together for the first time.
The presence of this pivotal world staging post for narcotics in their midst is the real cause of the denizens' of Syria's second biggest city reluctance to jump aboard the protest movement – and not just, as widely reported, the tendency of a solid middle class to avoid extreme action that might jeopardize its financial stability.
Aleppans know that to protect their drug center, Assad and Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah will stop at nothing and punish them with even greater savagery than any other center of dissent. The man in the street is well aware of the special forces on call at the camp plus the Hizballah urban combat specialist unit attached to the local Syrian intelligence command center.
Aleppo drug facility "a bigger threat than the plutonium reactor"
In 1996, the Clinton administration "decertified" Syria for 10 years (meaning all aid from US and international financial institutions was barred) as a major transshipment country for opium and morphine base from Southwest Asia to Lebanese refineries.
In 1997, radical Islamic groups like Hizballah and Hamas were documented as profiting from the cocaine trade to finance terror. Lebanon was reported as importing poppies and chemicals to produce cocaine from South America, as well as the morphine base for making heroin at dozens of small laboratories in the Hizballah-controlled Beqaa Valley. The refined drug was exported by air or sea or through Syria, then too the major transit station for both incoming and outgoing drugs, as well as providing protection for the drug traffic.
Fourteen years later, in July 2010, Damascus was still designated a major route for drug trafficking and main port of entry for South American cocaine and heroin for distribution in the US, Europe, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. It is the transit point between Lebanon and Turkey.
In 2011, Syria is going stronger than ever as a major staging point for drugs traveling to the West often through Turkey.
One Middle East intelligence source commented recently: "In September 2007, when Israel bombed the Iranian-North Korean plutonium reactor the Syrians were building at Deir al-Zour, America should have given the green light for also razing the drug facility in Aleppo. This facility is a bigger threat to American and Israeli security than the Deir al-Zour reactor. And it is still there, whereas even after the reactor was wiped out, Iran is still heading for a nuke and Syria and Hizballah continue to arm themselves with strategic missiles with one hand, while crushing an uprising with the other."