Saturday, February 10, 2007

Lebanese Arms Black Market Booms on Iraqi Imports

Lebanon's TerraNet has an interesting report from AFP, reporting on the booming Lebanese arms market and including quotes from a Lebanese arms black marketeer.
The price of a Kalashnikov assault rifle has soared in Lebanon, riding the wave of political crisis, community tension and fears of a new civil war.

It used to be 100 dollars (76 euros). Now it's more than 700 dollars.

"It's a stampede," an arms dealer who did not wish to be named told AFP.

"Those who have guns are keeping them or not selling except for a huge profit, and those who don't have them are buying so they can face any eventuality."

He said a cartridge clip that used to go for two dollars now costs 20 dollars, and "a Kalashnikov has gone from a hundred dollars to 700 or 750 dollars."

...After the current political crisis sparked deadly Beirut street clashes last month between opposition supporters and those backing the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, "everyone is looking for guns," said a businessman close to the arms trade.

Requesting anonymity, he added that Syria- and Iran-backed Hezbollah, which heads the opposition movement, is not selling weapons on the local market.

The source of guns now available is twofold, the businessman said. Either they have been passed from hand to hand down the years or they were smuggled into the country, generally from Iraq.

Last December, police in the north seized weapons in a raid on offices of a pro-Syrian party, which said they were left over from the 1980s "from the time of the resistance" against Israel.

But guns that have hit the market recently are brought by road from Iraq via Syria, often hidden in containers, lorries, "and even concealed inside car doors," the businessman said.

"To ensure they are not found by Syrian customs officers, only small quantities are smuggled at any one time," he added.

...A client's motives for buying a gun are unimportant. In Lebanon, when it comes to doing business, politics plays no part -- both smugglers and dealers have links with all parties, the businessman said.

Kalshnikovs and US-made M-16s are most highly sought after, as are handguns. "But not heavy weapons," said the businessman. "It's more difficult to bring in a cannon or rocket launcher, and demand is low."

The black market price of a rocket launcher has not risen -- it is still 300 dollars.
As I say, interesting on many levels. It tells us that, perhaps contrary to what we might think, an RPG is cheaper than an assault rifle in such circumstances. It tells us a lot about the free-wheeling non-political nature of the arms markets in the Middle east. It probably tells us a lot about the Iraqi black market by analogy...and it tells us that Iraq is so awash in black market weapons that they can export them wholesale to Lebanon via Syria under the noses of three different sets of border guards, and without ever having to posit Iranian evil-doers in the background.

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