logic behind the 2nd Amendment, also once more makes the point that
there are no significant transfers of weapons, even light arms,
without one or more governments involved. Either agenda or
corruption at work. Hard for defenseless people to be free. BTW, a
lot of M16's been observed there, wonder where they came from?
Black market for weapons nearly depleted, smugglers to Syria say
Donors have given money to aid the Syria rebels, but the needed arms
are getting harder to find, merchants in Lebanon say.
By Los Angeles Times Staff
March 18, 2012
Reporting from Tripoli, Lebanon—
At a small table in a hotel restaurant where elderly men drank coffee
and played speed chess, Abu Ismail's phone rang.
He picked it up and squinted at the caller ID.
"Allo," he said. "A 16? How many? $2,000? If it's clean, bring it, yes."
With that, Abu Ismail bought one M-16 assault rifle for the Syrian
For months, arms merchants such as Abu Ismail have been buying black-
market weapons in Lebanon for the insurgency against Syrian President
Bashar Assad. But the arms supply has slowed to a trickle, he says.
"When attacks on protesters began, an RPG cost $300; now it's $800
and there aren't any more to be found," said Abu Ismail, who is from
the embattled city of Homs and asked to be identified by a family
nickname for security reasons. "The Lebanese weapons market has dried
The weapons shortage has serious implications for the uprising, even
as Syrian expatriate money increasingly flows to the rebels and
international support appears to be growing for arming the
opposition. On Monday, the opposition umbrella group the Syrian
National Council announced that it would help arm the Free Syrian
Army with the help of foreign governments, which it declined to name.
But little of that seems to affect the situation as rebels find fewer
weapons sources and have a harder time getting the arms into Syria.
In the face of a much better-armed Syrian army, the rebels will find
it difficult, if not impossible, to sustain their insurgency if a
surge of weapons doesn't come soon.
"We don't want intervention or safe corridors…. All we ask for are
weapons to be able to protect the people," said Abu Sleiman, a
thirtysomething leader of the Martyrs of Tal Kalakh militia in Homs
province. "We don't care where the weapons come from."
Some weapons have also come in from Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, but
rebels report that it has been easier to get arms from Lebanon. Even
that route — the one also used by fleeing families, journalists and
humanitarian aid — is dangerous, and many rebel smugglers have been
killed along the way.
Despite talk from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar of arming
the rebels, no money has come from other nations, they say. Instead,
much of it has come from expatriates. Until recently, many of them
were supporting nonviolent aspects of the uprising, but now they have
diverted much of the money for weapons, said Amr Al-Azm, an
opposition activist who is involved with the Syrian National Council.
"They believe that by putting money into arms it will somehow
accelerate the downfall of the regime," he said. "I speak to
activists who complain they are no longer able to buy the tools they
need, like laptops or phones."
Last month, opposition leaders received $100,000 from a Syrian
businessman in Turkey, said Abu Fahad, a leader in the opposition who
recently fled to Tripoli, a northern Lebanese city. But he didn't
know where they would be able to spend the money given the dearth of
The conflict in Syria isn't the only thing depleting the weapons
black market. Underscoring international fear that the unrest in
regionally strategic Syria will spill over its borders, Lebanese who
support Assad and those backing the opposition are also buying up
weapons, Abu Ismail said.
Like other merchants, he doesn't have the ability to smuggle weapons
from other countries into Lebanon so he must try to find them from
the few sources that are left in Lebanon: Hezbollah, which has long
been backed by Syria, and others that support Assad.
When Syria pulled its troops out of Lebanon in 2005, it left behind
large caches of light weapons with Hezbollah and other pro-Assad
militias-turned-political parties. Now some of those weapons are
being stolen by members of these parties and sold to the merchants
who are supplying the rebels, the same scenario that is happening
between the Syrian army and the rebels.
Money, Abu Ismail said, trumps political loyalty.
But not always. Some of the ammunition and grenades have been
manipulated — filled with TNT — to explode inside the weapons,
killing the rebels, he and others have said. Other times the weapons
are just duds.
"It's happened a lot," he said.
From the merchants, the weapons are turned over to rebels, who
smuggle them across the border.
The rebel smugglers often carry more than 30 pounds of weapons or
ammunition strapped to their backs, and trek as far as 13 miles on
mountain trails, sometimes spending the whole night walking, said Abu
Sleiman, who spoke as he recovered in a northern Lebanese village
after being shot in the leg during clashes.
The smugglers switch up the trails regularly, and watch them around
the clock to ensure that the army doesn't plant them with mines,
which rebels say has been happening on the Lebanese and Turkish
borders. Human Rights Watch released a report last week calling for
the Syrian government to stop the mining, calling it "unconscionable."
Smuggling from Lebanon to Syria dates to the early 1980s, when then-
President Hafez Assad, Bashar's father, imposed austerity measures to
tightly control the economy and maintain self-sufficiency amid
growing international tension, Al-Azm said.
Imports were severely restricted, and everyday items such as tissues
and diesel or washing machines and furniture were smuggled from
Lebanon, he said.
Customs officers and local security officials were bribed to look the
other way as a constant stream of products made their way into the
Abu Adnaan, a 27-year-old with spiky, gelled hair, said he has been
helping smuggle things such as medicine and diesel since he was 13.
When the uprising began in March 2011, he was working in piracy
security off the coast of Somalia. But by late April, he was in
Tripoli buying weapons.
"It was obvious from the beginning it was going to end up like this.
I said no peaceful, no nothing," said Abu Adnaan, who is from a
rebellious Damascus suburb. "I began buying weapons before the
revolution became armed."
But he, like other merchants, has found hardly any heavy weapons; he
says he bought a few shoulder-fired missiles but has been unable to
find any antitank or antiaircraft rockets on the black market. Even
the light weapons have become scarce.
When he first began buying ammunition, he could easily get 10,000
rounds at a time. Now he has trouble finding 4,000 over a few days.
But even as the supply has dwindled, the need has increased as the
regime's forces have intensified an offensive in Homs, Hama and
Idlib, increasingly using tanks and helicopters.
"If there aren't weapons on the ground, the revolution will…." said
Abu Sleiman, trailing off. "The killing will continue."