Lebanese security forces have uncovered an attempt to smuggle nine million pills of Captagon, an amphetamine drug popular in the Middle East, through the port of Beirut.
The country’s customs agency issued a statement on Wednesday claiming that the pills had been found inside a shipment of oranges that were later discovered to be made of plastic. Customs agents arrested several of the would-be smugglers, and a criminal investigation into the plot has been opened, according to the statement.
Lebanon’s Interior Minister, Bassam Mawlawi, claimed at a press conference that the government would not disclose the identities of the smugglers, and would not reveal details about the plot until more information was available. He indicated that the investigation would reveal where the pills had been produced, and who was responsible for packaging them.
“We promise [our] citizens and all the friendly countries, especially the Gulf countries, the Lebanese authorities are serious in combating the smuggling of Captagon,” Mawlawi said.
Lebanon is often a point of transit for narcotics from Syria, where the regime of Bashar al-Assad has engaged in industrial-scale illicit drug production to raise badly-needed funds for the country’s civil war, into the oil-rich nations of the Gulf, where the drugs are typically consumed. The Qatari state-run Al Jazeera outlet indicated that the Captagon shipment was intended to be sold in Kuwait, citing anonymous sources.
While Mawlawi did not speculate on the responsibility for the drug shipment, other commentators were quick to blame Hezbollah, the Iran-aligned militia and political party which has been tied to both the Assad regime and to other smuggling incidents at the port.
Lebanon’s involvement in the drug trade is one cause of a diplomatic crisis between the government in Beirut and the nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), several of which have broken relations with, or imposed embargoes on, Lebanon. Saudi Arabia, the GCC’s unofficial leader, banned agricultural imports from Lebanon in April after a shipment of pomegranates from Beirut was revealed to contain more than five million pills of Captagon.
The diplomatic crisis deepened further after Lebanon’s Information Minister, George Kordahi, was recorded blaming Saudi Arabia for the deterioration of Yemen. In that footage, which was recorded prior to Kordahi’s appointment, the minister argued that the Houthi rebels in northern Yemen, who have fought Saudi Arabia and its allies to a stalemate in the country, were “defending themselves [...] against an external aggression.”
Kordahi’s remarks led Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Bahrain, and the internationally-recognized government of Yemen to withdraw their ambassadors from Beirut. Although the Lebanese government indicated it stood behind Kordahi, the information minister resigned from his post in December in an attempt to restore good relations.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.