Note: while not Mexico, a useful look at how things work. "So the
temptation for people to defend themselves is growing." Also of
interest is the significant inflation of prices. Should point out
that the Lebanese connection may be a good bit of payback also.
As Syria Conflict Continues, More Weapons Smuggled In
By RITA DAOU, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Published: 16 Oct 2011 11:04
BEIRUT - As the revolt in Syria drags on, experts say weapons
smuggling into the country has flourished, especially from Lebanon,
with automatic weapons, grenades and hunting rifles in high demand.
A PICTURE FROM the official Syrian Arab News Agency shows weapons
Syrian security forces said were seized after being smuggled into the
country from neighbouring Iraq. (Syrian Arab News Agency via AFP)
They say that those behind the trafficking are smugglers in search of
quick profits rather than political parties backing protesters
against the Alawite-dominated regime in Syria.
"Smuggling networks that for years have operated along Syria's
borders seem to have turned to weapons trafficking in recent months,"
said Peter Harling, a Damascus-based expert with the International
"It appears that a market has quickly developed in a country which,
contrary to Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen or Libya, had few weapons
circulating beforehand," he said.
He said smugglers were motivated by money, at least for the time being.
"I don't think that at this point we can say, as the Syrian regime
claims, that foreign powers are playing a significant role in this,"
"People on both sides in Syria are buying weapons to defend
themselves," he added.
"Residents in Alawite villages are arming themselves for fear of
reprisals and the [mainly Sunni Muslim] opposition is increasingly
doing the same given the regime's harsh crackdown against any form of
"So the temptation for people to defend themselves is growing."
A Western diplomat in Beirut who did not wish to be identified
confirmed that weapons smuggling from Lebanon into Syria was on the
rise, but also stressed he believed this was the work of individuals
rather than parties.
"Those sending weapons may sympathize with a certain party but you
can't say that a political faction as such is behind the smuggling,"
the diplomat said.
He noted the situation was ironic given that for years weapons had
been smuggled from Syria into neighboring Iraq and Lebanon. "The
tables are turned now, and it's a case of the biter getting bitten,"
Since the outbreak of the Syrian uprising in mid-March, Damascus has
accused loyalists of former Lebanese premier Saad Hariri, a Sunni, of
sending cash and weapons to the opposition in Syria. Hariri has
denied the allegations.
Lebanese authorities have arrested a number of Lebanese and Syrian
nationals on charges of weapons smuggling. A judicial official said
the arms seized in those cases were either hunting rifles or light
The smuggling has led to a hike in prices on the black market,
notably for hunting rifles, automatic weapons and grenades.
"The Syrians are raking in all the weapons and driving up prices,"
said one licensed weapons dealer who did not wish to be identified.
He added that much of the weapons on the black market in Lebanon date
back to the country's 1975-90 civil war or were smuggled in from Iraq
following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
An underground weapons dealer in north Lebanon, also on condition of
anonymity, said the price of a used Kalashnikov assault rifle has
risen from $800 (575 euros) to $1,500 (1079 euros) since the Syria
The price of a grenade has also doubled, from about $5 to more than
$10, he added, while rocket-propelled grenades are now fetching $200
a piece as opposed to $70 previously.
"There is high demand for Kalashnikovs and ammunition as well as pump-
action shotguns which usually come from Turkey and are sold for $500,
compared to $200 normally," he said.
He said the weapons are smuggled by foot or by car through remote
areas along the 205-mile (330-kilometer) border between Lebanon and
"There are more than 50 illegal crossings between the two countries,
and there is no way to station enough troops to control them all,"
said retired Lebanese Army Gen. Elias Hanna.
The Western diplomat said that the militant group Hezbollah, a
staunch supporter of Assad and a key player in the Beirut government,
had boosted its presence along the border in the eastern Bekaa region
to stem the smuggling.
The Syrian Army has also stepped up security along the border.
Hanna said that while the arms being smuggled into Syria at this
point were light weapons and unlikely to upset the current balance of
power, the situation could change if neighboring countries decided to
arm the opposition.
"When countries like Turkey change their stand and allow the transfer
of heavy weapons through the border, then the balance of power will
change," he said. "But I don't think this is going to happen anytime