Amidst the chaos and brutality of the “Holy” war in Syria and Iraq, sectarian conflict has brought a change in fortunes to the Lebanese marijuana farmers of the Bekaa valley. The ancient proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has long been a foundation of middle east politics.
Though the valley is only 30 km. (19 miles) from Beirut, and is the heartland of Lebanon’s arable land, it is a border region, with the reaches of the Syrian desert to the north, and the nigh impassable Anti-Lebanon mountains to the east. This has long made the valley the home of fugitives and refugees, bandits and rebel armies, and , at least since the Classical age, the redoubt of drug farmers, notably growers of opium poppies and marijuana.
The Republic Of Lebanon, established by the French Mandate in 1943, was a bold and perhaps doomed attempt at creating a multi-cultural democracy made up of four religious/ethnic groups; the Maronite Christians, the Druze, and both Sunni and Shiite Muslims. All these groups had a complex and war-torn history, and from 1970, the country has been in an almost constant state of war, with its civil war, an invasion of Palestinian militias, the Israeli and multinational invasion, the rise of the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, the Syrian occupation, and on and on. This state of chaos and shifting balances of power allowed an extensive network of marijuana and poppy plantations to thrive in the Bekaa valley. The farms export their crops, primarily throughout the middle east, but also throughout the world. “Lebanese Pollen, white and gold” were marijuana strains and hash products that became famous in the weed scene of the 60’s and 70’s.
The farms and farming clans are allied with various rebel groups and armies, particularly the Shiite Hezbollah. For many years the Lebanese army has run yearly operations, utilizing thousands of ground troops to arrest farmers and destroy crops and equipment. This is Lebanon though, and the farmers themselves are veteran warriors of the various decades of conflict and they are well-armed with vehicle mounted machine guns, rocket launchers, rocket-propelled grenades and more.
With the rise of Isis and the Nusra Front and other fundamentalist Islamic armies in Syria and Iraq, the picture suddenly looks very different. The Lebanese army now appreciates the presence of these hardened pot farmers on the Syrian border. Indeed, militias of farmers, knowing that their lives and livelihoods are threatened by the approaching Sunni armies have already participated in border battles, holding back the onslaught.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend”, indeed, and for now, the marijuana fields of the bekaa are safe, while the armies of Lebanon turn their attention to their wrathful foes to the east.