There are concerns about Iranian attempts to influence the internal situation in Jordan, either by using its territory for military actions against Israel or by attacking American entities there.

Despite a Jordanian initiative last year to curb drug smuggling from Syria into its borders, the drug trade has only grown. In exchange for its reclaimed seat in the Arab League, Syria had promised to clamp down on drug trafficking across its borders with Jordan.
Incensed, Jordan took matters into its own hands on 18 December, when its army launched a massive security operation against drug traffickers — the largest of its kind. The exchange of fire lasted for about 14 hours, resulting in injuries to Jordanian soldiers. The Jordanian army managed to arrest nine traffickers, the majority from the rural areas of Sweida.
Following this clash and based on intelligence information, Jordanian security forces raided a location last Friday where traffickers had been hiding. The operation resulted in the death of one trafficker of Arab nationality who had infiltrated Jordan illegally, according to a statement from the Jordanian General Security.
According to the statement, three individuals were arrested, while a fourth was injured during the clashes, leading to his death.
Jordanian authorities announced, on 18 December, the thwarting of a drug smuggling operation, estimating the seized drugs at five million Captagon pills and more than 12,000 bundles of hashish (hash or cannabis resin).
Salah Al-Armouti, a Jordanian deputy from the Islamic Action Party, expressed concern in an interview with Al Majalla over the recent clash, considering it an “organised act carried out by suspicious entities that have shifted from drug trafficking to weapons and missiles, thus threatening Jordan’s security and resulting in the loss of our sons as martyrs.”
Al-Armouti held the Syrian government responsible, stating that “it should have prevented smuggling networks as a condition for its return to the Arab fold.”
“Is it reasonable for these incidents to originate from Syrian territory? The targeting of Jordan is disturbing and should not be ignored,” he said, urging the Jordanian government to take the issue up diplomatically with the Syrian regime.
Jordanian TV reported that the war on drugs has shifted into Syrian territory. On 19 December (highlighted in the original), Jordanian aircraft conducted attacks in the Syrian Sweida countryside, targeting the residence of a drug dealer.

Jordanian planes had previously bombed a drug factory inside Syrian territory in May, resulting in the death of the region’s most notorious drug trafficker, Mar’i Al-Rumaythan. However, Jordan did not officially announce it on either occasion.
Sources in Syria informed Al Majalla that “the air strikes on the city of Salakhid targeted the house of Faisal Al-Saadi, associated with drug smuggling in collaboration with (the Lebanese) Hezbollah, and his fate remains unknown.”

Suspicious motives
Some view the backers of the smugglers with extreme suspicion. There are concerns about Iranian attempts to influence the domestic situation in Jordan, either by using Jordanian territory for military actions against Israel or by attacking foreign – mainly American – entities operating in Jordan.

Strategic affairs expert Amer Al-Sbayleh, in a conversation with Al Majalla, says that while drug smuggling networks have been deeply rooted in southern Syria for years, it has more recently become a bastion for various regional parties to undermine the interests of certain countries.
“Because so many different actors are present in Syria’s southern region, it is difficult for Damascus to exercise control there. Therefore, Jordan has taken it upon itself to enforce border security and has successfully exacted a high cost on anyone trying to attack Jordan’s borders,” says Sbayleh.
The players mentioned by Sbayleh are Hezbollah militia and its partners in Syria: the Syrian government, Iranian forces, and, to a lesser extent, Russian forces. On the other side of the border is the Arab Army of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Resolute response
Sbayleh says that, given Israel’s war on Gaza and the potential for the conflict to spread to the wider region, as seen with Houthi attacks on maritime trade in the Red Sea as a response to that war, it’s important that Jordan sends a resolute message to drug traffickers by using military force.
Major General Yousef Huneiti, Chief of the Jordanian Joint Chiefs of Staff (of the Jordanian Armed Forces), has said that the Jordanian army is doing its utmost to proactively crush the drug trade and maintain the safety and security of its citizens.
On his part, retired Jordanian Brigadier General Ayman Al-Rusan has said that smuggling operations have not been limited to drugs only and that weapons and missiles have also been found. He called on increased regional cooperation to confront the serious threat.
He attributed the security breakdown in southern Syria to a laxity of Syrian security agencies which allowed militias to increase their activity.

Utilisation of drones
He also said that drones are increasingly being utilised to smuggle drugs across the border.
Smugglers turned to drones after Jordan changed its rules of engagement on 17 May 2022, following the death of a soldier and the injury of others in a clash with smugglers. Since the beginning of this year, the Jordanian army has managed to down about nine drones coming from southern Syria, which were loaded with drugs.
Jordan is considered one of the countries most affected by the war in Syria, as the two nations share a common border spanning over 375 kilometres. Extremists have launched repeated attacks on Jordan, which also hosts more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees, according to official figures.
Over the years, trade between the two countries has decreased while drug smuggling has increased.
Al-Rusan believes that drugs are no longer the sole objective for smugglers. Instead, they are engaging in a kind of proxy war through militias to smuggle weapons, infiltrate the borders of many Arab countries, and destroy the fabric of society through the spread of drugs.

Pictures of the weapons found with the smugglers indicate that they are old and used, suggesting that they are for domestic use, serving the smugglers’ activities rather than transporting them to Palestinian territories or even to dormant cells in Jordan to be used at a later stage. Transporting weapons to Palestinian territories requires the weapons to be more modern.
The question remains: What is the final destination of the smuggled weapons into Jordan?

Systematic campaign unlikely
So far, there doesn’t seem to be a systematic campaign to smuggle weapons into Jordan. While the Jordanian army has confiscated weapons from smugglers, it is uncertain whether these weapons are intended for smuggling operations or if they are being smuggled into Jordan and, subsequently, into Palestinian territories.

The situation on the Jordanian-Syrian border underscores a recurring problem: While cooperation between Jordan and Syria is vital to both countries who share a massive land border, Damascus’s inability to control its territory has only worsened. It also lacks the ability to enforce agreements because of political and financial constraints.
The Syrian government relies on the support of Hezbollah, Iranians, and Russians to stay in power, making it difficult for them to abandon these allies. Additionally, the drug trade undoubtedly provides the Syrian government and its affiliates with much-needed money, giving them little incentive to crack down unless it can secure alternative sources of revenue.

Al Majalla Magzine