According to Reuters, Saudi Arabia has allegedly offered Bashar al-Assad, the head of the Syrian regime, $4 billion to halt the production and trade of Captagon. This tactic of blackmail is not new and may be a key factor in Assad’s continued hold on power.
However, the dynamics of control over the drug trade as a blackmail tool might be shifting. Unlike previous instances where “resistance” or “extremism” were used for political and security gains with limited material returns, the use of drugs as a means of extortion has become a lucrative source of revenue for Assad’s regime, its affiliated militias, and even members of the ruling family.
This raises the question of whether Assad can control this tool when he desires. As Saudi Arabia attempts to entice Assad to participate in the Arab summit and regain his image as a national leader rather than a drug cartel figurehead, it remains uncertain whether Assad, even if willing, can rein in the military and security apparatus that are deeply entwined in the drug trade. This includes his own brother, who commands a significant “regular” military force involved in these activities.
The report suggests that the key to understanding Assad’s ability to curb the drug trade lies in a recent meeting in Amman. During the meeting, Assad’s foreign minister reportedly tied the reduction of Captagon trade to Arab pressure on the United States to ease sanctions. Assad deliberately made this demand, knowing it would be challenging to fulfill due to the Western, particularly American, stance on tightening sanctions. This move coincides with Assad’s forthcoming anti-Captagon law, which further highlights his awareness of the situation.
Saudi Arabia is attempting to persuade Washington to consider its approach by offering incentives to Assad in exchange for US support. However, Assad has preemptively demanded a price, making it difficult for Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations seeking normalization with him.
These events will likely determine future developments. If Assad fails to control the drug trade, it could hinder or even reverse the course of Arab “normalization.” Assad would remain confined to the role of a drug cartel leader, while his surroundings contemplate ways to mitigate his negative influence. Regional actors must now seriously consider alternative policies to resist blackmail, as previous understandings with Assad on matters of “resistance” or “extremism” are no longer possible due to his loss of control. This situation poses a medium and long-term threat to Assad’s regime, prompting his regional counterparts to either dismantle it or accept their status as major markets for his drugs, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.