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Saudi authorities confiscated over 2.4 million amphetamine tablets hidden in a shipment of pomegranates from Lebanon on Friday.
The Saudi ambassador to Beirut, Walid al-Bukhari, tweeted on Sunday that his country had confiscated more than 600 million narcotic tablets and hundreds of kilogrammes of hashish imported from Lebanon in the previous six years.
Furthermore, Greece reported on Thursday evening that it had confiscated four tonnes of cannabis in Piraeus Port, which was concealed in a shipment of commercial cupcake-making machines bound from Lebanon to Slovakia, based on intelligence obtained from the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
According to local media sources, the announcement, which will also impact Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, will result in more than $70 million in expected annual missed revenue.
By press time, four Gulf countries had released statements in favour of Saudi Arabia’s decision: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the UAE, although Qatar had yet to respond.
Newspapers in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait announced that decisions to indefinitely ban imports from Lebanon will be issued shortly before a solution to the problem of narcotics and arms smuggling is identified.
The products coming from Lebanon constitute at most 10% of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries’ produce imports. said by authorities in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. Countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and India will be able to fill the gap.
RO (whose full name has been withheld for fear of assassination), a former Hezbollah member who used to export arms and drugs to various countries, told The Media Line, “Hezbollah relies mainly on [the sale of] drugs since the lack of funding caused by US sanctions on a number of party members and against Iran, in addition to the collapse of the Lebanese state.
“We were working all day on Hezbollah farms in villages like Yammoune [in the Baalbek-Hermel Governorate] and other Lebanese villages in Shebaa Farms [known in Israel as Mount Dov], which are the main source of drugs in Lebanon and are under the protection of the party’s forces, in addition to sections of the Lebanese army,” RO said.
“The volume of drugs that the party used to ship from Lebanon alone up to 2016 was estimated at more than $5 billion annually, not including its cooperation with Iranian facilities at drug farms in certain Latin American countries. It is a network of drug cartels,” he continued.
“As for farms that export vegetables, they are not owned by Hezbollah, but whoever does not cooperate with it, will have their agricultural crops burned, or they would be threatened or killed, done with the knowledge of the Lebanese state, who cannot do anything about it,” RO said.
He explained: “More than 10,000 people, all of them Lebanese, work with salaries not exceeding $100 a month to pack drugs, and sometimes weapons, and any truck driver who does not cooperate with the party will obtain permits for his exit from Lebanon or regarding other security measures.
“Weapons are imported from Iran, Syria or Iraq, and they are also sent via shipments of vegetables, fruits and some other products exported by Lebanon, such as electrical appliances,” RO said.
“Arms constitute only a small part of these exports, given the difficulty of exporting them, and the countries to which arms are exported in the Gulf are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain,” he said.
“Hezbollah owns more than five camps to train fighters from the Ansar Allah Al-Houthi [Iran-backed Yemeni rebel] group as well as fighters from Bahraini and Kuwaiti groups belonging to the Shiite sect, who undergo training courses of between two weeks and six months in duration,” RO added.
“The weapons that are exported are machine guns and handguns, in addition to detonators, and [explosive] materials such as TNT and C-4. As for the rest of the materials from which bombs are made, they are available in the local market,” the former Hezbollah operative said.
“The Lebanese security services are aware of all these transactions, but they cannot talk about them what with the collapse of the Lebanese state, and what happened in the port of Beirut [the huge explosion last August] was a small example of what Hezbollah owns inside Lebanon. The army, Interior Ministry, customs service, ports and airport are all under the control of Hezbollah,” RO said.
Ibrahim Al Moussawi, a Shiite member of the Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc, the political wing of Hezbollah in the Lebanese parliament, told The Media Line that accusations against Hezbollah of smuggling and trading in drugs are untrue, saying, “What Saudi Arabia did is part of the campaign to starve the Lebanese people in the service of American, Western, and Israeli interests. We do not trade in drugs, and it is forbidden according to Sharia, and the secretary-general of the party, Hassan Nasrallah, has denied these accusations several times.”
He added, “This is nonsense and false accusations against the Lebanese resistance. Saudi Arabia must tighten its security, but not at the expense of the Lebanese people.”
Ibrahim Al-Tarshihi, head of the farmers and peasants’ association in Lebanon’s Bekaa region, told local Lebanese media outlets that “Lebanese agricultural production is innocent of the charge of exporting drugs to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
He added, “Lebanon does not have pomegranates to export. We have noticed for several years that there are goods from several countries that are exported as Lebanese goods. Perhaps Syria is the one who exported this shipment as Lebanese.”
Badr Abdulaziz, a Bahraini political and security expert, told The Media Line that Bahrain had several times “confiscated land shipments of Lebanese goods containing weapons or drugs.
“There are dozens of [Bahraini Shiite] fighters whom Bahrain previously announced that Hezbollah had trained in camps in Shebaa Farms or in the southern suburbs of Beirut, but the Lebanese state did not respond to Bahrain or even the Gulf states in this matter,” Abdulaziz said.
“The Saudi decision should have been taken a long time ago, and what Saudi Arabia announced about 200 million [sic] narcotic tablets is but a small part of what Hezbollah tried to smuggle,” he said.
“We all know that the Lebanese state is weak and that Hezbollah controls all the important institutions in it, but the Gulf states cannot allow Lebanon to be a source of drugs or weapons or a training ground for outlaws to destabilize security and stability in the Gulf states,” Abdulaziz said.
“Previously, five or six shipments were seized coming from Lebanon, and this shipment that Saudi Arabia has now seized is perhaps the largest. We in the Gulf countries have not been harmed [by the import ban]. We have other sources to compensate for the simple shortage of vegetables, fruits and other Lebanese products, so the only loser is the Lebanese people,” the Bahraini analyst said.
“An investigation in Bahrain proved that the Lebanese Hezbollah group was planning to try to smuggle weapons into Bahrain, which were seized on a bus coming from Iraq carrying Bahraini Shiite visitors, and although the shipment was coming from Iraq, Hezbollah was responsible for smuggling it,” Abdulaziz said.
Muhammad al-Qubban, a Saudi security expert, told The Media Line, “Over the past six years, Saudi Arabia has seized more than 600 million drug pills arriving in shipments from Lebanon.”
“The decision of the Saudi authorities is a message to Lebanon, that the state, and not political parties and militias in the country, is the responsible actor. Saudi Arabia has informed the Lebanese authorities several times about the smuggling of weapons and drugs from Beirut, but there was no response,” he said.
“Seventy-five percent of the shipments that Lebanon sends to the Gulf contain drugs or weapons and other prohibited items. It is the responsibility of the Lebanese authorities to inspect all containers before they leave Lebanon,” Qubban said.