Among those who see the fighting in Syria as the product of an externally controlled covert regime-change project, it is frequently asserted — without much concrete evidence — that the conflict is being fueled by weapons flowing from Qatar and Saudi Arabia and entering Syria through Turkey.
There’s an easy way of testing this theory without attempting to trace weapons back to their source: examine the arms trade on the Turkish border. C.J. Chivers has just been doing this and finds that demand far outstrips supply. There are clearly many more men in Syria seeking weapons and ammunition than there are guns and bullets and the money to buy them.
Rifle rounds cost $2 each or more and Kalashnikovs now cost $1,000 to more than $2,000. American-made M-16s are available and very expensive (from $5,000 to $7,000 per rifle, with scope) but they are also useless — there are virtually no bullets available.
While the most pressing concern of rebel commanders is that they don’t have enough weapons or funds to buy them, there are also looming concerns about what happens after the fall of Assad.
Last year, in Libya, arms researchers watched the swift arc from arms scarcity to oversupply among the opposition forces. From late winter into early summer, weapons were in short enough supply that many Libyan men went to battle without them, ready to pick up the weapon of a fallen fighter, while hoping to capture the weapons of slain Qaddafi troops. At that time, Kalashnikovs could cost $2,000 or more, just as they do for Syrian fighters now. By last fall, after the struggle for the country ebbed, many fighters possessed several rifles, along with machine guns or rocket-propelled grenades. Prices were plummeting, with reports of Kalashnikovs for sale at less than $500. Post-Qaddafi Libya, which for months had inhaled weapons, had become a black-market exporter, with all manner of arms being reported traveling out.
With this in mind, one Syrian rebel commander from Idlib, after the meeting last Friday, drove with journalists from The New York Times to a house he and a commander from Hama share with an ever-changing collection of fighters. His name was Abu Hamza, and he was a former major in the Syrian army. Abu Hamza wanted more weapons. But he said he worried where this was headed – toward the possibility of chaos. “After the war,” he said, “we have to collect these weapons.”
Abu Hamza was confident about the prospects for the uprising; there is no question, he said, that Mr. Assad will fall. But he worried about the effects of these weapons on post-conflict Syria. “We have been watching,” he said, “and we do not want Syria to be like Afghanistan, Somalia or Libya.”