The Folly of Reengaging Assad

(Foreign Policy) Charles Lister - Although the Assad regime's horrific record of war crimes and crimes against humanity is well known, several governments in the Middle East have recently pursued policies to reengage and normalize Syria's regime. While Jordan had been a longtime backer of Syria's armed anti-Assad opposition since 2012, Jordan flipped in 2017 and 2018. Amman's reasoning for turning against Syria's opposition was its desire for stability along its border, to create conditions amenable to refugee returns, and to rid southern Syria of Islamic State cells as well as an extensive Iranian and Hizbullah presence. Yet Syria's southern province of Daraa is now arguably the most unstable region in the country, riddled with daily insurgent attacks, inter-factional strife, and targeted assassinations. Not only does Iran remain in place alongside Hizbullah and a network of local proxy militias, but Iran and its proxies have expanded their reach and influence, commanding some 150 military facilities across southern Syria. The Islamic State, too, continues to conduct sporadic attacks in the area. In addition, there has been an enormous surge in Assad regime-sponsored drug smuggling through Jordan. Thanks to the Syrian regime's illicit production of Captagon, an amphetamine-like stimulant, Syria is now a narco-state of global significance. In 2021, $30 billion worth of Captagon was produced in Syrian facilities guarded by private military contractors. According to Jordanian officials, 16 million Captagon pills were seized on Jordanian soil coming from Syria in 2021; in the first five months of 2022, that number stood at 20 million pills, and today, that number has reached 33 million. Dozens of people have been killed in border clashes associated with the Syrian drug trade. The writer is a senior fellow and director of the Syria and Counterterrorism and Extremism programs at the Middle East Institute.

2022-10-06 00:00:00

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