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Drug Trafficking on the Rise in Iran

by Tracy Le, published
Credit: Foreign Policy

Iran sees rise in drug trafficking

Due to the recent seizure of narcotics at the border of Iran and Afghanistan, the problem of drug trafficking in Iran has been increasingly magnified. Law enforcement officials are now worried as the illicit drug industry produces quantities of a powerful synthetic drug and has been the very source to some Iranians reaping cash income and all despite even the efforts of Western sanctions.

From Europe to Southeast Asia, the surge of drug trafficking has turned heads of police and intelligence officials specifically with the findings of high-quality methamphetamine derivatives originating from Iran. Efforts have been made and initiated by Iran’s Northern neighbor, Azerbaijan, after their naval patrol's recent seizure also revealing American-made night vision goggles in the hands of Iranian smugglers.

Iran recognizes it’s drug problem and has re-directed attention towards the harm that has been done to their own police personal and border guards, positioning themselves as victims. Notably, the value of meth and heroin have become equally intense and rampant—thus having created a wider and seamless expansion of the threat. The Iranians responded last year and confiscated over three tons of methamphetamine due to updated drug laws. Yet the threat grows.

Due to massive profits from narcotics and methamphetamine the attention from criminals everywhere from Russia to Central Asian states have been rising. Though this hardly makes Iran the only country tethered to the region’s drug trade, Iranians have been associated with being key players, especially concerning the highly addictive synthetic stimulant, methamphetamine. What has been found is an exceptionally pure form of the drug that’s been mass-produced by Iranian drug makers which has led U.S. officials to bring to the surface the certainty that professional chemists in pharmaceutical-grade laboratories are behind the making of such a refined drug.

Where there lays weak governments and borders, Iran smugglers have paid advantageous attention, creating easy access routes from their region that also affects the market in Western Europe. In addition, for Azerbaijani security officials, the challenge has been as plain as the blinking lights on the radar screen in Turkan—the headquarters for the main coast guard station on the Caspian Sea, where blips that might represent drug runners trying to sneak across the maritime border with Iran, are watched by men in uniforms. Yet, with improved techniques and technology, chief of the country’s State Border Service Maj. Gen. Farhd Tagi-zada remarks there has been remarkable resourcefulness from Iranian crews in events that have displayed the smugglers' sophistication to contrast any efforts of Tagi-zada and his team.

But what has been successful on Tagi-zada’s front was a crucial arrest in August when one of his response ships, which are partly paid for by U.S. funds, caught a suspicious and small Iranian vessel. “The smugglers claimed to be fishing, but it was obvious they were lying,” Tagi-zada recalled. After finding nothing after scouring the boat, convinced that the Iranians had tossed their contraband overboard upon discovery, divers searched for three long days before finding 25 pounds of heroin wrapped in cellophane.

Though a slight victory, patrols along Azerbaijan’s land border with Iran continue to encounter drug gangs that hold enough firepower to fight a small war. With walls being rammed through with heavier weapons and the intense use of wielding assault rifles and grenades, guards have been killed in fights, diplomatic relations are also in a state of fragility. Under anonymity, Azerbaijani officials protest about what they see as Iranian hypocrisy in its regional war. Accusations of Iranian leaders making a show of executing drug traffickers at home while doing little to cease the flow of drugs across the war-stricken borders have been communicated.

Officially, the two countries are allies concerning drug smuggling so their governments have worked together to shut down specific networks, though few channels are available for the U.S., who have no diplomatic relations with Iran. Because foreign markets will be the main target due to the small population of meth users in Iran, the emergence of high-quality laboratories in Iran produce methamphetamine is a great concern, and a greater one is the development of trafficking routes into the U.S. Though only a few containers of Iranian meth have turned up in Western countries, the fear is that the supply may rise in the future.

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