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Nicholas Blanford

Benefiting from Bourj Barajneh

The recent bombing in Dahiyeh has ratcheted up black market arms prices

A Russian-made MP-446 Viking 9mm pistol, a newly-arrived weapon on Lebanon

The recent twin suicide bombings in Bourj Barajneh that left 48 people dead has cast a pall over the country and generated fears of further attacks, but the deadly incident has also provided a financial boon for black market arms dealers.

Prices of weapons ranging from standard Russian AK-47 rifles to rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers and PKC light machine guns have risen in the wake of the bombings by some 20% as nervous people arm themselves in expectation of further violence. The spike ends a year of steadily falling prices for black market weapons after reaching a record peak in summer 2014. Before the Bourj Barajneh bombings, prices had slumped to roughly the same levels as early 2011 before the war in Syria began.

“Everyone is buying again. I am struggling to keep up with demand,” said one arms dealer from Beirut’s southern suburbs who spoke on strict condition of anonymity.

Articles of his trade were scattered around his sitting room — a FN FAL 7.62mm rifle (worth $900) lay alongside two battered-looking AK-47s ($1,700 for a folding stock version and $1,200 for the fixed wooden stock). A customer cast an experienced eye over an M4 assault rifle, working the action while discussing prices with the dealer. The US-made M4 is one of the most sought after weapons in Lebanon, even with an $8,000 price tag. If the M4 comes with the detachable M203 grenade launcher, expect to pay double the amount.

The arms black market consistently provides a key indicator of the mood in Lebanon with the rise and fall of prices closely tied to the prevailing security climate. Many arms purchasers are not one-time buyers but rather treat weapons as a commodity to be bought and sold in tune with the increase and decrease of prices just like shares in a stock market.

The advent of the war in Syria saw a sharp rise in weapon prices as demand soared from nascent rebel groups across the border in late 2011 and early 2012. In March 2011, the month the uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad commenced, a good-quality Russian AK-47 rifle (such as the “Saroukh” or “missile” named for the stamped triangle on the metalwork) fetched around $1,100. A year later, the price had doubled to $2,200. Once alternative means of acquiring weapons were found in Syria, demand for commonly-found weapons (such as RPG-7 launchers and rounds and AK-47 rifles) stabilized or declined while other weapons systems less common in Syria (such as US-manufactured systems) continued to gradually climb.
 
Today, an RPG-7 launcher fetches around $1,000 and a single round $150. While the prices for the launcher and grenade have climbed since the Bourj Barajneh bombings they are still significantly less than their value in September 2014 of $1,300 and $300 respectively.


Former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden pictured in Afghanistan in November 2011. Beside him is an AKS 74U rifle, popularly known in Lebanon as the

Former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden pictured in Afghanistan in November 2011. Beside him is an AKS 74U rifle, popularly known in Lebanon as the "Bin Laden gun.” (Nicholas Blanford)

 

Among other weapons in high demand is the AKS 74U, popularly known as the “Bin Laden gun” as the late Al-Qaeda leader was sometimes pictured with one. The AKS 74U is worth $5,500 today, a drop of some $1,000-$1,500 from the highs of a year ago. An SVD Dragunov semi-automatic sniper rifle is worth $3,500 while for the serious firearms enthusiast a DShK (“Dushka”) 12.7mm heavy machine gun is available for $7,000.

Relatively little new weaponry enters the Lebanese black market from external sources, with the same arms and ammunition being bought and sold multiple times. However, the war in Syria has provided an opportunity for at least two new systems to appear. In early 2014, the GP-30 40mm detachable grenade launcher for AK-47 rifles began circulating on the black market having been smuggled in by Hezbollah fighters serving in Syria.

Only elite units in the Syria Army, such as the 4th Armored Division and the Republican Guards, were issued with GP-30 launchers. The launchers were purchased off individual soldiers and then sold on the black market in Lebanon where they command a staggering $7,000 price tag, more than four times the cost of the weapon to which it is fitted. Each 40mm grenade, whether the standard VOG-25 or the “bouncing” VOG-25P (which on hitting the ground jumps about a meter into the air before exploding), is worth $40.

Hezbollah forbids its fighters to smuggle weapons and material from Syrian battlefields into Lebanon, but the high prices some armaments command prove a tempting means to augment individual incomes.

More recently, a new pistol has arrived on the Lebanese market from Syria, the Russian MP-446 Viking 9mm automatic which has an 18-round magazine capacity. The weapon began appearing shortly after Russia intervened militarily in Syria in early September. It is not entirely clear if the pistol is included among Russia’s arms shipments to the Assad regime, items of which have found their way onto the black market, or whether there is another source. Nevertheless, the pistol, known for its ruggedness and reliability, is selling well at $2,200 each.

Nicholas Blanford is Beirut correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor and author of Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah’s Thirty-Year Struggle Against Israel.

A Russian-made MP-446 Viking 9mm pistol, a newly-arrived weapon on Lebanon's black market. It sells for $2,200. (Nicholas Blanford)

The arms black market consistently provides a key indicator of the mood in Lebanon with the rise and fall of prices closely tied to the prevailing security climate."