For years, Iran has marketed itself as a frontline state in the war against the drug lords. Recently the New York Times even described the regime in Tehran as the “West’s stalwart ally in the War on Drugs.” The problem is that while the Iranian regime is fighting drug lords on its eastern borders, much of the drugs it seizes are being sold by the Revolutionary Guards to the same people they are asking for additional funding to fight the drug trade—the Europeans.
Moved by Iran’s catastrophic drug situation, Europeans have assisted Iran over the years with weapons, training, and equipment. In 2004, Austria’s ministry of defense approved the sale of 800 HS50 12.7mm (.50 caliber) Steyr-Mannlicher sniper rifles for Iran’s drug-fighting police units. Even though the United States sanctioned Steyr-Mannlicher, the Austrian defense ministry defended the licensed sale as “unimpeachable.” But, sold to kill drug traffickers, the rifles were reverse-engineered to murder Americans. In February 2007, American troops seized copies of the weapon from Iraqi Shi’a insurgents in Baghdad.
According to a 2012 Human Rights Watch report, from 2000 to 2009, the UK gave Iran more than $4.7 million as part of its anti-drug assistance programs. From 2007 and 2011, “Belgium, France, Ireland, Japan, and the United Kingdom provided $3.4 million through UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime] to establish border liaison offices as well as for body scanners and sniffer dogs to be used at checkpoints, major airports, and the Iran-Afghanistan border.” But, supplied to fight drugs, the equipment was diverted to kill Israelis. The Europeans provided night-vision equipment, which Israeli troops later found in abandoned Hezbollah bunkers during their July 2006 war with the Shiite militia.
And now there is growing evidence that Iran is playing both sides of the war between civilized nations and drug cartels.
Two cables from the U.S. embassy in Baku, made public by WikiLeaks in late 2010, revealed a significant increase of processed heroin from Iran-based labs into Azerbaijan, en route to their final destinations in Europe. According to the first cable, under the guidance of IRGC Chief Commander Ali Ja’afari, the IRGC was responsible for running the refining activities and benefiting from the profits. As the second cable, from March 2009, notes:
Iranians’ formal businesses in Azerbaijan include factories, construction companies, trading companies, and shops, some of which may be hollow companies hiding illicit or semi-licit activities. Some are also said to be significant actors in obtaining spare parts and equipment for the Revolutionary Guard, raising revenues and managing money for it and/or regime figures, or managing Iran-origin narcotics trafficking.
Iran has connections to the drug trade that span the globe. The Qods Force plot in October 2011 to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington revealed a link between the QF and a Mexican drug cartel. And last March, Treasury designated Qods Force general Gholamreza Baghbani for allowing “Afghan narcotics traffickers to smuggle opiates through Iran.”
Iran has a serious drug problem. According to the 2010 UN. .Drug World Report, 42 percent of world opium not converted into heroin is used in Iran. But much of it just transits onto European markets, under the helpful supervision of the IRGC. Of the opium that is converted to heroin for world markets, 35 tons cross into Iran annually, about half of which are in transit for the European market and the rest is destined for local consumption. Iran has almost 400,000 heroin users and more than 500,000 opium users according to official statistics. Witnessing the degradation of its own society caused by drugs, Iran has no qualms inflicting the same plague onto others—even those whom it asks for help.