The prices of black-market weapons have climbed steadily since mid-March 2011, when the uprising began, but arms dealers say there has been a jump lately in the prices of certain armaments.
“There’s a big demand right now for rocket-propelled grenade launchers, hand grenades, and ammunition,” says Abu Rida, a stocky arms dealer in Beirut.
The price of a good quality Russian AK-47 assault rifle has almost doubled in the past 10 months from around $1,100 to $2,100. A rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher cost $900 last March and a single grenade was priced at around $100. Today an RPG launcher is worth $2,000 and each grenade $500.
“The prices are crazy. And it’s all going to Syria,” Abu Rida says. “The market is so strong that ordinary people are selling their rifles to make a quick profit.”
Part of the price hike is due to the difficulties in smuggling weapons into Syria on a large scale. While there's significant smuggling between Syria and Lebanon, activity on Syria's other borders is not as high. Syria shares borders with Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon, all of them – barring the frontier with Israel – relatively porous and traditionally susceptible to smuggling.
The border with Iraq, in particular, stretches across 370 miles of mainly stony desert. The Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki, the Shiite prime minister, has generally sided with the Assad regime.