Did Drug Trade Defray Cost of Syrian Occupation of Lebanon?

by Ghassan Karam

This is the 6th installment of the book:  The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic by Jonathan Marshall of the Stanford Studies In Middle Eastern And Islamic  Societies and Culture. The book is essentially an academic effort based on previously classified documents from the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) of the US government. The study reveals information about the deep involvement of the Lebanese political class in drug trafficking ever since the country was created but it is important to note that the book does not provide a smoking gun. This is not its purpose. The book is an investigation about the role that illicit drugs have played in shaping social, economic and political events in Lebanon especially between 1970 and 1990. The study does not paint a favourable picture of most of the traditional Lebanese politicians, Presidents of the Republic, Prime Ministers, Speakers of the Parliament and other high ranking officials and political leaders. That, I imagine, is why the book is banned and that is the main reason for these installments; let the sunshine in.

 

“The Syrians actually controlled only the main roads… and a few rear areas… Elsewhere in the [Bekka} valley are Iranians, Libyans, Palestinians and half a million Lebanese Muslims and Christians, with their own militias ranging from rightist to leftist”

                                                                                                                    Terry Anderson, 1983

 

Occupation whether by invitation of some or whether totally hostile is never easy. The role played by the Syrian army in Lebanon was not an exception especially in the drug trade. The Israeli reports published in English and were meant to appeal to a large international audience presented an image of a Syrian army that is totally consumed by all aspects of the illicit drug trade  whose levels of complicity reached all levels of the Syrian government up to and including the Assad family. Hard evidence to corroborate these far reaching accusations proved to be totally imaginary in some cases and not as solid in others. This does not mean that the Syrian army did not play a role in the drug trade in Lebanon because as we will see later on it did. The skepticism is only meant to express doubt about the authenticity of the Israeli effort since Israel had a vested interest in promoting a negative image of the occupying Syrian army.

What emerges very clearly though, are the details of the Syrian connection in the drug traffic. The extent of that involvement is very well documented through studies, arrest records and numerous “confessions”. The indisputable leaders in this area are the members of the Kassar family who are described as an enterprise that is in “control [of] one of the world’s largest arms and narcotics networks”. Kassars and drugs go back to 1946 when Mohamad, the head of the family,  started smuggling hashish  to Damascus from the Beka’a.Mr. Mohammad Kassar was eventually dismissed from the post of ambassador that he had risen to in 1970 when he was caught with 1oo kilograms of Hashish in his diplomatic pouch.

Ghassan, one of his sons, was arrested more than once as of 1969 smuggling drugs and stolen cars. Reportedly, Ghassan became a DEA/CIA informer until his arrest in Paris, 1978. His arrest netted him an 8 year sentence but he managed to buy his way out through bribes in 1982.

Monzer, one of Ghassans’ brothers, was the most notorious of the Kassars. The Netherlands issued an arrest warrant for his arrest, M16 accused him of gun running from Libya to Northern Ireland, the Schumer committee of the US Senate described him as “the drug Prince of Marbella” and he was named about 75 times in various DEA reports. Monzer had close connections to terrorism also. He had established strong contacts with, Abu Nidal, George Habash, Ahmad Gibril, Naif Hawatmeh as well as Abu Abbas of the Achille Lauro fame. Besides all the above Monzer had close friendly relations with the Syrian Defense Minister, Mustafa Tlas, and the Chief of Military Intelligence, General Ali Dubah. The Reagan White House also worked with Monzer who was paid $500,000 to purchase arms for the Contras in 1986. All of these connections, friends and acquaintances failed to keep him out of prison when he was finally set up by the DEAin2007. He was sentenced by a NY court for 30 years in 2009.

The role played by the Syrian army stationed in Lebanon can best be deduced from the fact that the Reagan administration refused to certify Syria under section 481(h) of the Foreign Assistance Act which is required if a country is to be eligible for US aid. The 1989 State Department report on narcotics was just as accusatory: “[Syria] acquiesced in the drug production and trafficking in the areas over which it exercises control”.

What is paradoxical about the above is that Washington refused to make direct accusations regarding Syria’s’ active drug facilitation efforts in Lebanon. Even when the DEA claimed that Syrian forces were charging $5000-$10,000 for every kilo of heroin that passes through their check points the Asst. Secretary of State, Melvyn Levitsky declared “We don’t have any reports that Assad himself has personally profited from this or that he’s pushing it”. The LA Times concluded that “it is not any of the institutions that is dirty but rather some individual officers”

Obviously Israel did not favour either the timidity of Washington in making clear accusations of the Syrian Army or the rapprochement that resulted from Syria joining the coalition of the willing in the Gulf War. These Israeli concerns coalesced in influencing the timing and the content of the Israel released report “Syrian Involvement in Drug Related Activities in Lebanon in 1991″. The report estimated that about 40% of the Lebanese GDP originated in the drug sector and that the Syrian cut was about $700 million each year. The report claimed that Jumblat ran heroin labs in the Chouf and his exports from Jiye were protected by General Ghazi Kanaan who was handsomely rewarded for his help. In addition to the Jumblatt connection the report alleges that drug exports from Ouzai were facilitated by the Syrian army in return for substantial direct payments. Hafez Assad was not directly implicated but the Red Brigades of his brother Rifaat in addition to Rifaats’ son, Firass, were described to have been in total control of the port in Tripoli.

Syrian culpability was real but probably not as extensive as Israel claimed. Syria tried to present its role as the saviour of Lebanon and insisted that its primary mission was to stabilize Lebanon and not to start conflicts with its clans. A 1989 French journalist seems to support this position: “The Syrians levy taxes but rarely search any trunks in order not to provoke the anger of the clans”. It is even alleged that the few run ins between the Syrian army and the Jaffar clan led to a symbolic crack down at best. Syria’s efforts were never meant to wipe out the drug trade, which was very profitable for its army, but was meant to demonstrate that Syria was serious in its efforts to fight drugs when in effect it was promoting it.

Ultimately, in 1997, both Lebanon and Syria were removed from the State Departments list of drug producers.

  • MeYosemite

    Does the book list names of any of the politicians still alive?

    • Ghassan Karam

       MeYosemite,
                          The names that are often mentioned are Suleiman Frangieh, Samir Geagea, Walid Jumblatt, and by association Amine Gemayel, Danny Chamoun. I might later on make a list of all names mentioned in the book.

      • 5thDrawer

        That might be a good idea Ghassan. :-)
        Considering the book is banned, why not list the ones most desirous of not having truth known?

  • MeYosemite

    Does the book list names of any of the politicians still alive?

    • http://profiles.google.com/karam.ghassan Ghassan Karam

       MeYosemite,
                          The names that are often mentioned are Suleiman Frangieh, Samir Geagea, Walid Jumblatt, and by association Amine Gemayel, Danny Chamoun. I might later on make a list of all names mentioned in the book.

      • 5thDrawer

        That might be a good idea Ghassan. :-)
        Considering the book is banned, why not list the ones most desirous of not having truth known?

  • 5thDrawer

    Thank you again, Ghassan.
    Syria … the ‘saviour’ of Lebanon. Yah.

    • Ghassan Karam

       5thDrawer,
                      Don’t play loose with the words :-) The full sentence was: “Syria tried to present its role as the saviour of Lebanon” since they wanted to justify their presence. Some will argue that the drug trade in addition to other forms of income more than financed the military operation in Lebanon, it padded the pockets of the top echelons in the Baath.

      • 5thDrawer

        Sometimes loose play is all people do here anyway. ;-)  But sorry.
        In all the world, in history of even what has become good and fair, it was illegal means which brought the money to the changers of societies. There are many wonderful stories in some now-good-and-contributing families of the sculduggery performed by ancestors who rode on the edges of the law. In many cases, those ancestors hang with pride over the fireplace mantel.
        Robin-hoods of infamy. :-)
        What is done by and for (or to) the society with the knowledge and money acquired – over time – is what we should be seeing by reading the facts; effects which often do not show for a generation or so, as we know.
        Where facts are banned, and truth is hidden longer, we find no saviours.

  • 5thDrawer

    Thank you again, Ghassan.
    Syria … the ‘saviour’ of Lebanon. Yah.

    • http://profiles.google.com/karam.ghassan Ghassan Karam

       5thDrawer,
                      Don’t play loose with the words :-) The full sentence was: “Syria tried to present its role as the saviour of Lebanon” since they wanted to justify their presence. Some will argue that the drug trade in addition to other forms of income more than financed the military operation in Lebanon, it padded the pockets of the top echelons in the Baath.

      • 5thDrawer

        Sometimes loose play is all people do here anyway. ;-)  But sorry.
        In all the world, in history of even what has become good and fair, it was illegal means which brought the money to the changers of societies. There are many wonderful stories in some now-good-and-contributing families of the sculduggery performed by ancestors who rode on the edges of the law. In many cases, those ancestors hang with pride over the fireplace mantel.
        Robin-hoods of infamy. :-)
        What is done by and for (or to) the society with the knowledge and money acquired – over time – is what we should be seeing by reading the facts; effects which often do not show for a generation or so, as we know.
        Where facts are banned, and truth is hidden longer, we find no saviours.

  • libnan1

    Ghassan, these articles are great evidence that the Lebanese army was the only CLEAN institution under the command of the Great general Aoun. All drug dealing militias fought the army and they were happy to see the only proud Lebanese institution defeated by foreign occupiers. Not for long as their heads are now on the chopping block.     

    • Ghassan Karam

       libnan1,
                 I think that I alluded to that in the previous article. Aoun had the brilliant idea that the best way to deal a blow to the militias is to take away their ports. It worked. (BTW, that is a fact and a bitter one from a person who is not an FPM supporter :-)

      • libnan1

         Ghassan, Supporting the FPM is not a requirement for stating facts….:) We are proud to be the only organization that have no elegance to any foreign entity. I’ve always been puzzled by the fact that the majority of Lebanese knew this fact and did not support their army against the drug dealing militias that were killing innocent people 

        • nagy_michael2

          Aoun maybe was clean when he fought against the Syrian army then. Since then after getting visited by Rustum Ghazali with 15 Millions in his suitcase, your sweetheart changed allegiance to Syria. Your sweetheart supported Hezbollah when they shot Colonel Hana plane and killed him and also jailed briefly his co-pilot.. your jerk general is stopping the investigations by holding on to information that might help lead to many M14 politicians and lately Wissam Al Eid. you’re living in a glass house now because you follow hezbollah blindly and think you can get away with anything. his son-in-law had done nothing with electricity and any ministry Aoun has control of it got screwed up and ripped. Yes you’re going to tell me hariri did the same thing. Well at least hariri did more constructive things than your ministers and all hezbollah combined. I support the Army then and I support it now and forever. I was against Geagea when fought against the army and he should have got shot for it. But do not tell us that Aoun do not have any elegance to any foreign entity.. how the hell he built that orange stations from his hard work at yarzi? who are you fooling? his son-in-law owns lots of properties in the north and many areas. how much these ministers make for God’s sake.. don’t label others if you do the same.. shut the hello up you faggot.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_B2K4S23OFZLXG7ETRIUO4RSLOM Joey

       the lebanese army are the clean institution and they are the braves as they are fighting wars with no guns but aoun is not the great general he is a small thief and the wimp he is scared of his own shadow even i don;t understand how such person become general its true what they say only in lebanon

  • libnan1

    Ghassan, these articles are great evidence that the Lebanese army was the only CLEAN institution under the command of the Great general Aoun. All drug dealing militias fought the army and they were happy to see the only proud Lebanese institution defeated by foreign occupiers. Not for long as their heads are now on the chopping block.     

    • http://profiles.google.com/karam.ghassan Ghassan Karam

       libnan1,
                 I think that I alluded to that in the previous article. Aoun had the brilliant idea that the best way to deal a blow to the militias is to take away their ports. It worked. (BTW, that is a fact and a bitter one from a person who is not an FPM supporter :-)

      • libnan1

         Ghassan, Supporting the FPM is not a requirement for stating facts….:) We are proud to be the only organization that have no elegance to any foreign entity. I’ve always been puzzled by the fact that the majority of Lebanese knew this fact and did not support their army against the drug dealing militias that were killing innocent people 

        • nagy_michael2

          Aoun maybe was clean when he fought against the Syrian army then. Since then after getting visited by Rustum Ghazali with 15 Millions in his suitcase, your sweetheart changed allegiance to Syria. Your sweetheart supported Hezbollah when they shot Colonel Hana plane and killed him and also jailed briefly his co-pilot.. your jerk general is stopping the investigations by holding on to information that might help lead to many M14 politicians and lately Wissam Al Eid. you’re living in a glass house now because you follow hezbollah blindly and think you can get away with anything. his son-in-law had done nothing with electricity and any ministry Aoun has control of it got screwed up and ripped. Yes you’re going to tell me hariri did the same thing. Well at least hariri did more constructive things than your ministers and all hezbollah combined. I support the Army then and I support it now and forever. I was against Geagea when fought against the army and he should have got shot for it. But do not tell us that Aoun do not have any elegance to any foreign entity.. how the hell he built that orange stations from his hard work at yarzi? who are you fooling? his son-in-law owns lots of properties in the north and many areas. how much these ministers make for God’s sake.. don’t label others if you do the same.. shut the hello up you faggot.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_B2K4S23OFZLXG7ETRIUO4RSLOM Joey

       the lebanese army are the clean institution and they are the braves as they are fighting wars with no guns but aoun is not the great general he is a small thief and the wimp he is scared of his own shadow even i don;t understand how such person become general its true what they say only in lebanon

  • Ghassan Karam

    nagy_michael2,
                          You make an excellent detailed argument whose facts, if true, corroborate your point that the General Aoun  that fought the militias is not the same that left to Paris with a bagful of money and that started the OTV only when Qatar gave the FPM $50 million to sign on to the Doha agreement But you know what? You wound up wasting your breath and your reasoning by adding the last few words to your response. Calling a person faggot would not earn your argument credit in my book and I bet in most peoples books . This personal attack on libnan1 was not warranted and it detracted from your argument. have a great day.

    • nagy_michael2

      Ghassan I agree but I am getting tired of him defending a senile man who lost love for his country for the sake of power. Nevertherless I agree I really do not hate ya libnan1 that much and I should not have resorted to personal attacks.. My applogy to libnan1 and I will refrain in the future from attacking anyone personally. I guess my emotions got the best of me. Its very sickening and tiring of hearing pro M8 denying all the killings in Lebanon and lately even mocking Wissam AL Hassan killing with Aoun blaming it on Wissam. I never heard such absurd and dumb founded mentality. then you have people following him knowing he only cares about himself and his family. In the beginning myself and majority of my friends were followers of General Aoun. we didn’t care about Geagea and we wholeheartdly supported Aoun. but just because he didn’t get what he wanted from M14, that shouldn’t change his patriotic spirit toward Lebanon and start defending Syrian regime as if it become his first choice instead of Lebanon. Anyway my applogy to anyone I insulted and I appreciate your input.

      • libnan1

         Nagy, apology accepted homo ….:) I don’t like anyone that kills innocent people. Aoun never ordered the killing of any innocent people based on their religion, the army never detained or kidnapped innocent people based on their religion unlike the rest of the militias that make up M14. Now he accepted money from Qatar as you guys say to spread his message does not harm anyone, it’s much better than being drug smuggler.
        Aoun came back to Lebanon to finish what he started in the eighties, free Lebanon from militias that destroyed the country. He talked to M14 about reversing the Taif accord, they refused. He aligned the FPM with HA, the only militia that never killed innocent people based on their faith. What happened in the South after the liberation speaks for itself, not a single innocent christian was targeted.
        He talked to the Syrian regime after they withdrew (which was the main aim of Aoun’s war) to help reverse the Taif accord they were instrumental in imposing on Lebanon. From my understanding, that is how the whole alliance you all criticize was created.
        As far as all the killings in Lebanon I assure you not Aoun nor any of his followers were involved.
        When is you next trip to Colombia? I like to get some strange ….

        • MeYosemite

          Libnan1: sorting negative numbers and choosing the highest among them still gives you a negative number. It does not matter if Aoun is better than his peer which is still is a poor choice. The fact accepting money as a politician is corruption by definition and the 50million he got was the settlement that he will accept Syria as Lebanon patron. Now in your argument about breaking dismantling the militias, his affiliation with HA as an armed militia contradicts what you stated. For most of us, I believe, he lost the respect by endorsing HA arms. HA could have been a party like the rest and that’s would have been fine. His involvement with drugs is indirect in association with HA (power + other expenses) and does not make him innocent.

      • ghzayel

        nagy_michael2

        i fully agree with most of your post minus the personal insult attack.

         i, among other lebanese was a convinced aoun sympathizer before he returned from france in 2005.

        he was at that time the gutsy and patriotic general coming to save lebanon from the syrian occcupation and lawlessness of hezballah and the illegal armed groups roaming freely on lebanese territories.

        i will never forget the pamphlets that the fpm followers were distributing on the streets in beirut the summer of 2004 that read ” the un resolution 1559 a gift from the united nations to the people of lebanon.”

        needless to say this resolution was calling for the immediate total withdrawal of syria from lebanon and the dismantlment of all militias and the surrender of all illegal weapons in lebanon including hezballah’s to the legal lebanese authorities.

        what we ended up in 2012 was a bitter and hateful general who is, along with his proteges, bassil and cos, interested in making quick fortunes on the back of the poor lebanese, just like any official in previous administrations and  who sold out all the patriotic principles he previously proclaimed all along in his speeches and in his famous manifesto book of 2004 and gave the lebanese nothing but deceptive propaganda lies and empty promises of change and government reform.

  • http://profiles.google.com/karam.ghassan Ghassan Karam

    nagy_michael2,
                          You make an excellent detailed argument whose facts, if true, corroborate your point that the General Aoun  that fought the militias is not the same that left to Paris with a bagful of money and that started the OTV only when Qatar gave the FPM $50 million to sign on to the Doha agreement But you know what? You wound up wasting your breath and your reasoning by adding the last few words to your response. Calling a person faggot would not earn your argument credit in my book and I bet in most peoples books . This personal attack on libnan1 was not warranted and it detracted from your argument. have a great day.

    • nagy_michael2

      Ghassan I agree but I am getting tired of him defending a senile man who lost love for his country for the sake of power. Nevertherless I agree I really do not hate ya libnan1 that much and I should not have resorted to personal attacks.. My applogy to libnan1 and I will refrain in the future from attacking anyone personally. I guess my emotions got the best of me. Its very sickening and tiring of hearing pro M8 denying all the killings in Lebanon and lately even mocking Wissam AL Hassan killing with Aoun blaming it on Wissam. I never heard such absurd and dumb founded mentality. then you have people following him knowing he only cares about himself and his family. In the beginning myself and majority of my friends were followers of General Aoun. we didn’t care about Geagea and we wholeheartdly supported Aoun. but just because he didn’t get what he wanted from M14, that shouldn’t change his patriotic spirit toward Lebanon and start defending Syrian regime as if it become his first choice instead of Lebanon. Anyway my applogy to anyone I insulted and I appreciate your input.

      • libnan1

         Nagy, apology accepted homo ….:) I don’t like anyone that kills innocent people. Aoun never ordered the killing of any innocent people based on their religion, the army never detained or kidnapped innocent people based on their religion unlike the rest of the militias that make up M14. Now he accepted money from Qatar as you guys say to spread his message does not harm anyone, it’s much better than being drug smuggler.
        Aoun came back to Lebanon to finish what he started in the eighties, free Lebanon from militias that destroyed the country. He talked to M14 about reversing the Taif accord, they refused. He aligned the FPM with HA, the only militia that never killed innocent people based on their faith. What happened in the South after the liberation speaks for itself, not a single innocent christian was targeted.
        He talked to the Syrian regime after they withdrew (which was the main aim of Aoun’s war) to help reverse the Taif accord they were instrumental in imposing on Lebanon. From my understanding, that is how the whole alliance you all criticize was created.
        As far as all the killings in Lebanon I assure you not Aoun nor any of his followers were involved.
        When is you next trip to Colombia? I like to get some strange ….

        • MeYosemite

          Libnan1: sorting negative numbers and choosing the highest among them still gives you a negative number. It does not matter if Aoun is better than his peer which is still is a poor choice. The fact accepting money as a politician is corruption by definition and the 50million he got was the settlement that he will accept Syria as Lebanon patron. Now in your argument about breaking dismantling the militias, his affiliation with HA as an armed militia contradicts what you stated. For most of us, I believe, he lost the respect by endorsing HA arms. HA could have been a party like the rest and that’s would have been fine. His involvement with drugs is indirect in association with HA (power + other expenses) and does not make him innocent.

      • ghzayel

        nagy_michael2

        i fully agree with most of your post minus the personal insult attack.

         i, among other lebanese was a convinced aoun sympathizer before he returned from france in 2005.

        he was at that time the gutsy and patriotic general coming to save lebanon from the syrian occcupation and lawlessness of hezballah and the illegal armed groups roaming freely on lebanese territories.

        i will never forget the pamphlets that the fpm followers were distributing on the streets in beirut the summer of 2004 that read ” the un resolution 1559 a gift from the united nations to the people of lebanon.”

        needless to say this resolution was calling for the immediate total withdrawal of syria from lebanon and the dismantlment of all militias and the surrender of all illegal weapons in lebanon including hezballah’s to the legal lebanese authorities.

        what we ended up in 2012 was a bitter and hateful general who is, along with his proteges, bassil and cos, interested in making quick fortunes on the back of the poor lebanese, just like any official in previous administrations and  who sold out all the patriotic principles he previously proclaimed all along in his speeches and in his famous manifesto book of 2004 and gave the lebanese nothing but deceptive propaganda lies and empty promises of change and government reform.