September 13, 2010:
Syria's smuggling problems continue, despite the government's efforts to eliminate it. While Israel's conflict with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah hogs most of the news coverage concerning conflict in Lebanon, contraband smugglers running the borders between the two countries have been a major issue in their own right, long before the arrival of Hezbollah and company.
The most popular products for smuggling are drugs (long a staple for Lebanese gangs) and black market diesel fuel. In countries as desperately poor as Lebanon and Syria, it goes without saying that police corruption goes hand-in-hand with the smuggling. The situation has gotten almost as bad as that on Egypt's Sinai border, with poorly-trained, ill-equipped, and barely-paid border guards being bribed or intimidated into letting the drug and fuel runners through. The difference between Syria and Egypt, however, is that the Egyptians have access to the latest military weaponry to help them fight Bedouin smugglers in the Sinai. The Egyptians have everything else working against them, but they do have good hardware.
The Syrian military, on the other hand, has all of the problems of Egypt's military (corruption, incompetence, poor leadership), but none of its strengths (high-tech equipment and billions of dollars in American military aid every year). Like the Egyptians, the Syrian government has gotten sick and tired of its borders being routinely violated by smuggling gangs. In the last few years, it has become particularly alarmed at the problem of fuel smuggling, which has caused a major financial problem in Syria against the backdrop of a global recession.
The problem has become so rampant that, in 2006, the Syrian government proclaimed that fuel smugglers would receive the same amount of jail time as dope runners if they were caught. If they made it through military or police custody alive. Syrian troops, after all, tend to shoot first and ask questions later.
With their borders guards proving unreliable and all but useless, the Syrians have had to deploy and station their elite special forces units at the Lebanese border from time to time. While the Syrian special forces are relatively well-trained and remain the best their country has to offer, they still suffer from outdated equipment which severely retards their effectiveness. With a pitifully small military budget, any major military campaign to halt the smugglers could go even worse for the Syrians than it has for the Egyptians, who at least have better weapons and a lot more money to spend.