• Omar Khan

Narcos Syria: the Middle East’s secret drug war by Omar Khan

At 4AM on 16 January 2022, a Jordanian army captain was killed in a violent gunbattle with armed drug traffickers on the Syrian border. His death and the escalation in drug activity persuaded Jordan to initiate a shoot-to-kill policy against smugglers – two weeks later, the army claimed to have shot dead 27 Captagon traffickers at a deadly border incursion northeast of Mafraq, an action that would have barely dented the rapidly-growing industry. In the first four months of 2022 alone, Jordan seized more Captagon pills than in the whole of 2021.

Fenethylline hydrochloride, branded as Captagon, was first synthesised in West Germany in the 1960s intended to treat narcolepsy and attention deficit disorder. Today, though, it fuels instability in the Middle East where the drug markets have been flooded with Captagon knock-offs (i.e. amphetamines laced with caffeine, paracetamol or theophylline) which rake in billions for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad whose country has become one of the world’s most recent narco-states. By 2013, two years into the destructive civil war which has so far killed at least 350,000 and expelled over thirteen million from their homes, Syria was identified as the “Captagon capital of the world.”


Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates along with an array of other states where Captagon is wildly popular have joined Jordan in the fight against smuggling. In April 2021, Saudi authorities in Jeddah seized over five million pills in a shipment of pomegranates from Lebanon. Riyadh then took the extreme measure of banning major imports (like fruits) from the country, damaging the Lebanese economy already obliterated by the 2020 explosion in Beirut. Two months later, in June 2021, despite the ban, the Saudis seized another 4.5 million Captagon pills hidden in a shipment of oranges plus nearly 15 million found in a cargo of iron plates, also from Lebanon. Commentators suggest that only 10% of shipments are seized with most of the product, commonly called the Arab world’s new craze, making its way into Saudi and Gulf markets for an estimated street value of $20 per pill.


The total worth of the industry is unknown. In 2020 alone, more than $3.4 billion worth of Syrian-made Captagon was seized around the world – for reference, Syria’s legal exports were around $800 million that year. The true scale is mind-boggling with organised crime experts estimating the Syrian drug trade could have been worth over $17 billion in 2020. As one Captagon producer bragged: “Let’s say you ordered a million pills. I can produce this in no time…24 - 48 hours and they will be packed and ready.” Addressing the efforts of law enforcement in the Middle East, he asserted: “They will never completely stop it. They might catch me, but there will always be someone else. There’s too much money to be made.”

So how did Syria become a narco-state? How has Captagon affected the Arab world’s existing drug scene? And what effect will this have on international relations in the region?




Imagine heading towards the Temple of Bacchus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the ancient Lebanese city of Ba’albek – on your way, you will pass through vast green fields of cannabis in the infamous Beka’a Valley on the Syrian border where hashish has been produced for centuries. Many in the region rely heavily on hash, a more potent form of marijuana (i.e. higher tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content) derived from the kief, or dried resin, of certain cannabis plants. In Lebanon’s post-colonial years, as opium poppies were gradually introduced to the Valley, local farmers became intertwined with militias and warlords to raise profits. Smuggling routes south into Jordan and Iraq developed along with those north into Turkey – but, as now seen with the rise of Captagon, the most profitable routes were westwards from Lebanese and Syrian ports into the Mediterranean. When Italian authorities in Salerno intercepted more than 14 tonnes of Captagon in June 2020, the estimated street worth was one billion euros. The sheer scale of the booming trade suggests a coordinated network is behind it with more and more evidence pointing towards a common source: Latakia.


In early December 2018, the cargo ship Noka switched off its automatic identification system as it sailed past Cyprus. With assistance from Frontex, the Greek Hellenic Coast Guard intercepted the Syrian-flagged vessel and found $100 million worth of hashish and Captagon hidden amongst spices, coffee and sawdust in double-bottom containers. The Noka had set sail from Latakia.


Eastern Europe, Turkey and Lebanon have historically dominated Captagon manufacturing, but two wars gave Syria and Lebanon their current elite status. As seen throughout the futile War on Drugs, illicit activity always intensifies with conflict. The 2006 Israel-Lebanon War saw Hezbollah step up its involvement with Captagon but by far the greatest boost to the drug came with the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Demand for the stimulant, providing a similar high to speed, surged amongst fighters and producers took advantage of the existing infrastructure. Before the war, Syria was the second-largest pharmaceuticals supplier in the MENA region. Amidst the post-Arab Spring chaos, Captagon producers had free rein over the functioning roads, water and electricity. Exports grew exponentially and demand across the region exploded. Captagon, known as the “poor man’s cocaine”, is popular amongst the Arab youth and some notable royals have also had a taste for it – in 2015, Lebanese authorities charged an unnamed Saudi prince with trying to smuggle two tonnes of pills on a private jet. With terrorist groups, fractured opposition militias, the Assad regime and multiple global powers on all sides tearing Syria apart, its economy, battered by international sanctions, soon collapsed and as many of us know: an economic collapse is great news for crime.


Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother, is commonly identified as the chief powerbroker in Latakia, a large port city run as a fiefdom by Syria’s ruling family. The country’s coastal areas are the traditional heartland of the Alawites, a minority group (~15% of population) to which the Assad family belongs. Throughout the war, the Latakia region has been a principal base for pro-government support and one of the world’s major Captagon sources. The sheer size of the busts by law enforcement indicates some sort of coordinated network – experts also point to the rapid surge in smuggling traffic via Jordan and Lebanon in 2015 after a crackdown by Turkish border guards. Most significantly, the scale of the operation suggests an “organised drug transit network” is responsible with the power to influence policymakers; one researcher said that the smooth export of Captagon, requiring “agents of exporters, customs clearance and shipping offices” to falsify documents implied official collusion with the Assad regime. A local journalist in Latakia said that “nothing leaves the area” without the approval of Maher al-Assad, commander of the army’s Fourth Division, or his men. The owner of the Noka, himself a convicted smuggler (with a shell company in London), claimed he had rented the ship to a company running a link known as the Lamira Line connecting Latakia, Benghazi (presumably the intended destination for the narcotics) and other Mediterranean ports – he also runs a café in Latakia, based in a resort owned by Mudar al-Assad, the president’s cousin.


While Homs and Aleppo have also been linked to drug trafficking, the smugglers work mainly out of Latakia and increasingly via Syria’s troubled neighbour. Lebanon’s economic implosion has been described as one of the world’s worst. Rampant corruption had already hindered its recovery from a long civil war, slowing growth and increasing public debt. The Syrian conflict and its violent spillover saw investors rapidly withdraw their funds from Lebanese banks – for an economy reliant on its famously high interest rates, this wasn’t good news. Compounding the collapse of the financial system, 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, neglected by a systematically corrupt government, blew up the Port of Beirut in August 2020 in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Food, medicine, gas and fuel supplies dwindled with the country suffering from long power cuts. Unemployment jumped from 28% in February 2020 to 40% by the end of the year, at which point the World Food Programme reported that 41% of households had difficulties accessing basic necessities. Water supply, sewage plants, air conditioning facilities and even road lights were all disrupted throughout 2021, with anti-government protests and violent outbreaks hitting the streets. The former head of the Central Anti-Narcotics Bureau contended that “Lebanon used to act mostly as a conduit for Syrian production but after the conflict broke out in Syria, many production facilities were gradually moved to the Beka’a region.” He emphasised that the country’s security forces are “stretched too thin due to the crisis” hence the difficulty in opposing the drug trade. Police, army and customs department salaries have reduced by 90%, boosting the risk of bribery. The power held by Damascus’ partner-in-crime, Hezbollah and their allies in Lebanon mean that in practice, most anti-trafficking efforts are ineffective.


But if the Syrian regime is running a massive drugs operation, then why haven’t regional powers called them out on it? Aren’t they waging a war against them anyway?

“Bye-Bye Bashar!” If you were in Homs or Damascus exactly eleven years ago, you might have heard this chant accompany the thousands of protestors demonstrating against the decades-old dictatorship of the Assad family. You may have also heard Syrian forces open fire on the scattered protests in what would become the early stages of a long and vicious conflict. Today the Syrian Arab Republic, backed by Iran and Russia, is in control of most of the country with Turkish-backed opposition groups collectively termed the Syrian National Army (mainly the descendants of the Free Syrian Army and its loosely-affiliated allies) scrounging for survival in the north and the Syrian Democratic Forces, a semi-Western ally and coalition of militias dominated by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s armed wing, the People’s Protection Units, consolidating its north-eastern territory (known as Rojava). Terrorist groups, like the much diminished Islamic State or al-Qaeda affiliates, remain active but weakened. Over eleven million people need humanitarian aid. While Syria has “fallen off the front page…the situation remains a living nightmare,” according to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. Assad may have wrested territorial control back from the scattered rebel groups but today’s Syria looks very different to the country he ran eleven years ago. Across many of the state’s territories, the government operates in name only – in reality, according to many analysts, these territories are “ruled as fiefs by local warlords.” Syria’s mukhabarat (security services) and armed forces suffered huge losses during the war and came to rely on irregular militias – for instance, the Syrian Arab Army had 220,000 active-duty troops before the war and in 2017 had as little as 25,000, massively increasing Damascus’ reliance on reservists, scattered loyalist militiamen and shabeeha, or neighbourhood thugs. Everyone, including opposition groups, looked to the black market to make profits. With no licit economy left, the only options were illicit.


Loyal to Washington, Arab powers throughout the war conformed with the international norm: no business with Syria while Bashar al-Assad is still president. But in recent years things have changed hence why regional powers have not called out the regime on its narco-economy. The Syrian-Arab rapprochement is a turning point in Middle Eastern geopolitics. In late December 2018, the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus, swiftly followed by Bahrain in the earliest sign of thawing relations with Syria – in November 2021, a month after a phone call between Assad and then-Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed (now UAE President after his brother’s recent death), the Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed visited the country with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad declaring they are “looking forward to these kinds of initiatives increasing in the coming days and weeks.” Iraq, currently caught in a cold war between the US and Iran, worked with Damascus during the war on ISIS with channels remaining open. Jordan, Oman and Kuwait have all taken steps to re-normalise relations – Muscat, having never severed ties in the first place, became the first to send an ambassador to Damascus in 2020. Qatar, home to the largest American military outpost in the Middle East at al-Udeid Air Base, has been hesitant to approach the Tehran-backed regime. In the face of all this, the US has repeatedly warned its Arab allies not to breach the targeted sanctions imposed on Syria. All factions, though, both pro- and anti-normalisation, are well aware that the ultimate decider is whether Syria is allowed re-entry to the Arab League and that this effectively comes down to the regional heavyweight, yet to pick a side.


The “political mood within the House of Saud has changed,” according to an official from the Free Officer’s Movement, a Syrian opposition group with close links to the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), Saudi Arabia’s primary intelligence agency. The source asserted that “many senior royals, particularly Muhammad bin Salman himself, are keen to reengage with Assad…The prevailing attitude [is that] ‘times have changed, the Arab Spring is history’”. On 3 May 2021, the GID Director General met his Syrian counterpart in Damascus sending shockwaves, felt hardest by the US. That same month, Iraqi President Barham Salih confirmed that Saudi and Iranian officials held bilateral talks in Baghdad in April nominally to soothe tensions exploding in Yemen. A Syrian foreign ministry official who was party to talks last year with Riyadh claimed that Crown Prince MBS told his people to “reassure Syria that he does not want regime change against Bashar,” and that he recognises that Iran and Assad won the war (specifically: “the side of the war in which…[Iran] most heavily invested won”), which, if true, would be a huge policy shift: Saudi Arabia supplied a range of Syrian rebel groups with funds and weapons including American anti-tank missiles, drawing harsh criticism from regime media. The official then added: “let’s just say the Iranians were immediately very welcoming to what they heard.” Saudi Arabia and Iran define each other’s foreign policies – two authoritarian heavyweights competing for power using the pretext of a religious divide. Riyadh’s initial opposition to the Alawite regime allied to Tehran seemed obvious – both the US and Israel were also invested to curb Iranian influence. So why the rapprochement? Basically, Arab powers have decided that the opportunity cost of opposing the Syrian regime is no longer worth it. Saudi Arabia has long wanted to woo Damascus out of Tehran’s sphere of influence, and has indicated that were Assad to push the Iranians out of Syria, his regime would be welcomed in from the diplomatic cold. Iran, however, isn’t too worried. Throughout the war, Iranian proxies, many from Iraq and Lebanon, were sent in to support the dwindling Syrian army – with an array of militias across the country, many with power in the south, in control of key territory and infrastructure, Tehran has deeply embedded itself in Syria. The source from the Free Officer’s Movement said: “The Saudis acknowledge that the Iranians will continue to have covert political influence in Damascus as they do in Baghdad, but they and the UAE want Assad to pressure the Iranians to at least reduce their build-up of strategic military assets, like the missile storage and production bases.” It is important to note that, similar to the normalisation of relations with Israel, there is no coordinated strategy to this – each country puts its own interests first. Take Jordan, for instance. Struggling against the waves of drug smugglers accompanied by armed groups, Amman “is well aware that the Syrian regime is the likely source for the narcotic trafficking along its border,” but the recent energy deal signed in January 2022 where Egyptian gas will be delivered via Jordan and Syria to provide electricity in Lebanon has taken priority. Syria was a major trade partner and now represents an opportunity for the struggling Jordanian economy – most significantly, re-normalisation forces the Syrians to comply with a 1987 water supply agreement. During the war, Damascus “throttled” supply to Jordan (the world’s second most water scarce state) via the vital Yarmouk river. Regardless of previous animosity, the interests of global powers, or the war crimes of the Syrian state, more and more Arab governments are prioritising economic interests and ultimately, cooperation with Damascus means turning a blind eye to its billion-dollar Captagon trade.


In 2006, a US surveillance operation targeting Colombian drug traffickers picked up something unexpected: a phone call in Arabic. A translator revealed a cocaine shipment was headed to the Middle East and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has since gathered plenty of evidence to implicate Iran-backed Hezbollah in money laundering and drug trafficking in Latin America. Today’s Captagon trade would not have flourished without the Syrian regime’s partner-in-crime. Hezbollah is a Shia Islamist group that emerged in the aftermath of Israel’s 1982 invasion of southern Lebanon during the civil war there from 1975-1990. To fund its violent operations, Hezbollah used its connections in Shia communities in West Africa and the Tri-Border Area (comprising Puerto Iguazú in Argentina, Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, and Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil) to run its drug and arms smuggling links. Lebanese and Syrian communities have developed since the 19th century in Latin America – former Paraguayan president Alfredo Stroessner encouraged the settlement of Lebanese migrants in the TBA to foster commercial activity. One successful money laundering route in the 1990s was via Benin: used cars would be bought in the US and moved to Benin in return for funds sent to Lebanon (sometimes as cash stuffed in suitcases). An estimated 300 used-car dealers raised $200-300 million monthly for Hezbollah. International pressure and the relative success of US sanctions and the DEA’s Project Cassandra has seen operations move to other West African states like the Ivory Coast where about 70% of cocaine shipments traced to Abidjan were linked to Lebanese businessmen. In Lebanon itself, though, Hezbollah is a powerful force and the entrenched corruption makes it unlikely for its involvement in today’s lucrative Captagon trade to be challenged. The Taif Agreement which ended the Lebanese Civil War used the National Pact (an independence-era agreement that the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni, the speaker a Shia and the defence minister a Druze) and divided parliament into religious groups which allowed militia leaders and oligarchs to entrench themselves at the top of their respective factions with power usually handed down from father to son. Each group essentially became a fiefdom based on patronage and self-enrichment. Critically, they each took charge of certain government services, but these were neglected as the rulers stole public money. Any attempt, however, to criticise one section of government was tantamount to attacking the entire religious sect it belonged to meaning reform became excruciatingly difficult.


On 15 May 2022, Lebanese people voted for change. Hezbollah and its allies lost their parliamentary majority and an impressive 13 reformist, first-time candidates won their seats. But will change come? The youth-led protests in the last few years have targeted the political system as a whole, but despite the apparent shake-up, many do not expect reform anytime soon. While the Hezbollah-led faction lost its majority, Hezbollah itself gained seats and its Shia ally (though wartime opponent) Amal held theirs. The Christian Free Patriotic Movement led by President Michel Aoun and allied with Hezbollah maintained its strong position. But there were some notable results: former Prime Minister and key Sunni leader Saad Hariri resigned and retired from politics this January so anti-Hezbollah Sunni representation “took a hit” from his Future Movement’s absence. More significantly, the Christian, anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces led by Samir Geagea gained five seats. The two Christian parties diverged primarily over Syrian occupation during the civil war (Geagea was allied to Damascus while Aoun fought to push them out of Lebanon). The flashpoint expected later in May will be the election of the speaker, a position reserved for Shias. “Nabih Berri is the quintessential crooked Lebanese political dinosaur,” said one commentator. Berri, the octogenarian head of Amal, has served as speaker for three decades and is seeking re-election this month. Geagea has vowed not to support Berri’s campaign. Hassan Nusrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has emphasised the role of consociationalism (i.e. cross-party power sharing) in keeping the peace in Lebanon. Last October, a violent gunbattle broke out in Beirut when a Shia protest made its way to the Tayouneh roundabout, the link between Ain el Rammaneh, a Christian neighbourhood, and Chiyah, a Shia stronghold. Given that the system makes the speaker a Shia and the two Shia parties’ candidate is Berri, it seems little can be done – at least, within the system. Lebanon’s complex political status means it is always on the brink of war. For now, though, it seems unlikely that Hezbollah’s entrenched position and infrastructure will be curtailed anytime soon allowing it to continue its highly profitable drug trafficking operation run with Damascus. (At the time of writing, the election of a speaker has not yet happened.)


To see how Captagon has changed the region’s existing drug scene, consider two countries: the gift of the Nile, and the site of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.


“90% of people in Egypt, whether it’s women or men, do drugs,” claimed a hash dealer in Cairo in 2018, explaining that he first got involved when the security forces jailed him for supporting Ayman Nour, an opposition leader who stood against ex-President Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 elections. When asked if he worries about the police, he said: “of course the police do what they can but they'll never be in control of the hash situation.” Hashish has been grown and sold in Egypt for hundreds of years. Asked if he needs to pay off someone in the police, he says no – the police, he explains, go to the dolab mukhadarat (areas where a few families sell drugs in bulk on the streets) and take a bribe, “for instance say 100,000 [Egyptian] pounds, and they come and collect them every month, and they leave them be.”


Synthetic drugs, though, like Captagon, crystal meth and El Madda (ketamine mixed with insecticide), are changing things in Egypt. Referring to meth, another dealer last year said: “Once people try it they quickly become addicted, which drives up consumption…In the past, there were only two or three suppliers, now there are 15 in Cairo alone.” A gram of meth (a highly-addictive form of the stimulant methamphetamine which increases dopamine levels, a neurotransmitter linked to motor functions and pleasure) used to cost $190, but today is as low as $50. Another dealer explained: “When I was a kid, it was mostly hashish that we sold, maybe some opium every now and then if someone had a contact in Upper Egypt. Today, I make most of my money from selling Tina,” using the street name for meth. He argued that Captagon and meth being imported on massive scales is the priority for Egyptian authorities who tend to leave alone the Bedouin tribes who move meth brought in from Yemen through mountains impassable for those unfamiliar. He also mentioned that before Libya’s second civil war broke out in 2014, the border was a hub of drug activity. Indeed, the Libyan ports of Benghazi, Tobruk and al-Khums are crucial to today’s Captagon trade bringing pills from Syria and Lebanon into Chad, Egypt and elsewhere. In May 2020, Fathi Bashagha, then-Interior Minister of the UN- and Turkish-backed Tripoli government accused the Russian- and Arab-backed Tobruk administration (led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar) of profiting from the Syrian drug pipeline. Recently though, on 17 May 2022, a year after a peace deal ended the civil war, gunfire was reported in al-Mansoura and Souq al-Thulatha in central Tripoli when Bashagha, now ironically allied with Haftar, attempted to enter the city and remove UN-recognised Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dbeibah after the Tobruk parliament appointed him as prime minister in March, effectively dividing Libya in two again and raising fears of war breaking out. (At the time of writing, the violence in Tripoli has ended and Bashagha has said he will form his own government in Sirte.) Libya and Egypt, one in chaos and the other under dictatorship, both represent important markets for Levantine Captagon, a drug that has to compete with those already on the scene.


Khat runs through the veins of the Yemeni people “like Satan,” wrote a revolutionary in 1958, “and enters their pockets to steal their money.” Despite his denunciation, he admitted: “It is truly the top ruler of Yemen.” While Captagon has grown popular amongst Houthi rebels waging war against the Saudi-backed government, the drug cannot compete with khat, a plant containing the amphetamine-like stimulant cathinone released into the saliva of those who chew its fresh leaves. One study suggests that khat-chewing has recently become a daily habit for 90% of Yemenis. In a country ripped apart by civil war, where 85% require humanitarian aid, nearly 40% of the population rely on khat cultivation for their livelihoods. “I work in khat because it’s the best work I can get. It’s easier than working in anything else. For poor people it’s the best option,” says one trader in the Ajar market in Ataq. So how has the war affected things?


If you were in Sana’a exactly eleven years ago, you might have heard the explosion at the compound of then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in what was a failed assassination attempt in the midst of the Arab Spring-inspired protests against his three-decade regime. Saleh had been fighting a sporadic insurgency by the Iran-backed, Zaidi Shia movement, Ansar Allah, led by Hussien Badreddin al-Houthi and after his death in 2004, his brother Abdul-Malik. In late 2011, he handed power to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi who saw a breakdown in the government and the outbreak of civil war in September 2014 when the Houthis took control of Sana’a and the key port city of Hodeida. Today, the Houthis control much of the north, intermittently attacking oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, which backs the government, and the UAE, which supports Riyadh and simultaneously aids the Southern Transitional Council, a separatist group based in Aden. Khat is primarily grown in the north but trucks loaded with it cross battle lines regularly and, according to a government official, “You’ll have people fight the Houthis in the trenches, but then they’ll go buy khat sold from Houthi areas.” The conflict in Yemen has intensified this year. “If both sides do not stop this war, no-one will stay quiet about these crimes,” declares a young man whose father was killed in a Saudi-led coalition “double tap” airstrike (two hits in quick succession, condemned by the UN) in March, nominally in response to a Houthi-drone attack on the UAE. He refers to the many war crimes all sides are alleged to have committed. In April 2022, Hadi handed power to a Presidential Council led by Rashad al-Alimi, ostensibly uniting the government with the southern separatists and though the effects of this move are yet to be seen, it does not change the reality on the ground: according to the UN, 377,000 people have died, 60% of whom were killed by hunger, lack of safe water and poor healthcare. A massive cholera outbreak has affected millions and killed about 4,000 since 2016. 19 million Yemenis will go hungry this year. Only 2.3% of Yemeni land is arable and khat growing dominates this, crowding out essential crops and disproportionately draining scarce water supplies. Apart from the burden on household finances, it pulls down the productivity of a population suffering from a dying economy. The future of Yemen looks bleak and the power of khat is exacerbating the situation, something that can be extended to a lot of the world where drugs and smuggling do little to improve the standing of those caught in brutal conflicts.


Exactly eleven years ago, the Global Commission on Drug Policy wrote: “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.” The drug scene in Iran is paradoxical. Despite the Islamic Republic having sentences for drug possession and trafficking so harsh it would have probably got applause from both Nixon and Reagan, its treatment of addiction is so progressive some have called it a model for many countries. Harm reduction and rehabilitation are on the fringes of Middle Eastern (and arguably Western) societies, but more and more are realising the futility of a “war on drugs” and investigating more effective alternatives to control the hold narcotics and organised crime groups have on our communities. The Captagon trade allows a regime responsible for multiple chemical weapons attacks using sarin and chlorine gas to earn billions with impunity. It enriches the criminal underworlds in Europe, Africa and parts of Asia. It fuels instability. In late 2021, the administration of President Joe Biden successfully lobbied against the “inclusion of an amendment within the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have required it to develop a strategy to challenge Syria’s Captagon trade.” Whatever the solution, the first step must be to acknowledge that the problem exists.