In the Middle East

Beqaa: Lebanon’s Drug Valley

The Beqaa (وادي البقاع) is a fertile valley in Lebanon, located east of the capital city of Beirut. Situated between Mount Lebanon to the West and Anti-Lebanon Mountains to the East, Beqaa Valley has historically been the most important farming region in Lebanon and a major agricultural source since the invasion of Alexander the Great. Since the days of the Roman Empire, the valley has a long tradition of drugs and is infamously known throughout the Middle East as Lebanon’s “drug valley.” During the civil war, cannabis cultivation was a major source of income from Beqaa Valley, where most of the country’s hashish and opium is also produced. The multi-billion dollar industry funded the fighting political factions and gave rise to organized crime. Most importantly, Beqaa Valley is regionally under Hezbollah control and has been occupied by the Syrian Army since the civil war. Following the war the drug trade, for the most part, collapsed due to worldwide crackdown on narcotics. Since then the production of drugs has seen a steady decline. However, lacking a formal treaty or other documentation describing the country’s borders, portions of the Lebanese-Syrian borders remain unclear with several regional sections still under dispute since 2000. Lacking a strong central military force, Beqaa Valley continues to be regulated by Syrian military forces.

In 2002, cannabis cultivation dramatically reduced despite continued significant consumption; opium poppy cultivation minimized and the amount of Latin American cocaine and Southwest Asian heroin being transited through the region to European and Middle Eastern markets decreased. However, eradication campaigns often generate violent clashes as many farmers rely heavily on their annual crop production and promised development alternatives have failed to materialize and provide. Thus, the political unrest that weakened the central government during the war in 2006 with Israel gave rise once again to significant drug cultivation and production. However, the illicit industry remains limited to only Beqaa Valley, north of the town of Baalbek, where tribal rule of law still firmly protects the armed families of farmers. The region is fiercely protected by Hezbollah as well, whom occupy the area but firmly deny any involvement with the drug trade and claim to oppose it on moral grounds.

Since the invasion of Syrian forces under former President Hafez Assad during Lebanon’s civil war, Syrian troops have guarded the poppy and cannabis fields to prevent theft and ensure supplies are not sold to competing bidders. The Assad regimes, under both father and son, have utilized Lebanon as a drug paradise for decades. Reports from the U.S. State Department on terrorism financing have indicated that the Beqaa Valley continues to be a major source of funding to the current Assad regime, with Syrian troops still occupying the region even with the war in Syria raging on.