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What does Syria’s return to the Arab League really mean?

May 28,2023 - Last updated at May 28,2023

With the return of Syria to the Arab League, the issue of countering narco-trafficking remains the main challenge for many countries. With the US Congress approving a draft resolution that lays down a US strategy to stop drug production and trafficking by dismantling networks linked to the Syrian regime, we could see serious changes particularly if the US engages on the illicit narco-trafficking trade in the region. This strategy will also require more coordination among US allies and regional countries that suffer from this trade, especially Jordan and Lebanon.

The approach that aims to drain the sources of drug production might lead to the end of the conflict with the Syrian regime itself, as this strategy is based on police support, international coordination, economic sanctions, information sharing and coordination of operations. 

It is also important to note that captagon production and distribution is not limited to one geographic area, it is produced across the region and huge amounts of the drug go in different directions from Gulf countries to Europe. At the same time, it is the source of finance for various militias and terrorist groups as well. Many terrorist organisations benefit from this trade and have managed to develop wide networks that function efficiently from distribution of drugs to making use of financial systems to launder the drug proceeds.

There is no doubt that these criminal activities have created various new challenges for security services across the region, especially given that local criminal groups have been given the opportunity to increase their activities by connecting to international criminal networks. So, it is no surprise to see drug trafficking expanding to new areas, while the region is witnessing a rapid increase in the sophistication of crime. Security forces need to be ready to face new waves of criminal techniques that have not been seen before in the region.

It is important to address with the narco-trafficking the way countries have managed terrorism, through alliances, seriousness and cooperation. This challenge requires security forces in the region to understand global criminal trends and increase their connections with global crime fighting the way intelligence function in the anti-terrorism context. The new wave of criminal networks cannot be separated from the terrorists, in fact they can be used to track the terrorists, but require better integration with global policing and crime tracking in order to understand the networks. Moreover, the militaries of the region need to adjust their doctrines to face the new danger challenge by learning from similar experiences globally and support from allies.

Countries like Jordan and the Gulf countries are seeking to leverage Syria’s return to the Arab League and the reopening of direct channels with Syria to put an end to this illicit trade. While true success cannot be measured in the short-term, the efficacy of engagement with Syria must be evaluated by results on the ground. The trust building process has started but it will depend on Syrians themselves to decide how far this process will go and how successful it will be.

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