Syrian arbitrage markets in everything

by on March 11, 2012 at 11:49 am in Political Science | Permalink

…insurgent commanders say most of their weapons come from the very army they’re fighting, either seized or purchased in a thriving illicit trade. Intermediaries such as a merchant known as Abu Hussein arrange arms deals between the two sides.

Abu Hussein described how the rebels will shoot a few times at a government checkpoint, giving soldiers the cover to fire off their weapons. If the troops expend 200 bullets, Abu Hussein said, they may tell their superiors that 400 bullets were fired. The remaining 200 bullets will be sold to the rebels, typically for 150 Syrian pounds (about $2.50) per bullet.

The full story is here, and I thank Daniel Lippman for the pointer.

Daniel Francis March 11, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Economic harmonies in the oddest of places :D

Willitts March 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm

So now we the gamesmanship of psychological operations:

1. This report is true, and the Syrian government will now mistrust their soldiers, providing them with less ammunition and employing resources to catch collaborators. The jig is up for the rebels who will now receive fewer weapons and less ammo.

2. This report is false, and it is designed to make the Syrian goverment react as if it is true. The Syrian soldiers get less ammunition and weapons, but the rebels are deprived of nothing.

For the Syrian soldiers, it doesn’t matter whether 1 or 2 is the case. If 1 is true, they must keep their heads attached to their shoulders by not getting caught selling ammunition, but remain in the good favor of their “enemy” who might suddenly improve their marksmanship skills. If 2 is true, they must request less ammunition than they might like and watch their back as well as their front. The enemy might just miss them in order to arouse suspicion – “Why are these guys alive,” says Bashar. “We must now kill them!”

In either case, it sucks to be on the losing side of a revolution.

Ken Rhodes March 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm

The Six Days War: Israel needed to buy large numbers of tanks and other arms, but because of the U.S. entanglement in Viet Nam, we refused to sell them. Israel then turned to Russia.

“We can’t sell to you openly,” they were told by the Russian Minister of Trade, “because we would be seen as abandoning our allies in the Arab world. But we can work it out. You declare war on Egypt and their allies. They will capitulate quickly, while abandoning many tanks, guns, and vehicles in the desert. You take them all and pay us under the table, reporting the expenditures merely as ‘expenses of war.’ “

TGGP March 11, 2012 at 11:24 pm

That reminds me of the scene from Varicella where you tell the Venetians the code to blow up the Minister of War’s equipment, and when asked why you would do such a thing demand an exorbitant payment for the information already imparted.

CMS March 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm

It appears there are also regulators in everything.

From the article:

“The other day, Abu Rami was driving through Maarat Numan in a white SUV that had been stolen while being transported on a highway. He spotted a scruffy young man selling gasoline beside the road. For months, gas and diesel have been in short supply.

“How much?” Abu Rami asked. 70 Syrian pounds a liter, the man told him, at least 10 pounds more than the average price.

“Why 70? I swear that’s a travesty,” said Abu Fawz, a 29-year-old father of two who used to sell medical equipment to pharmacies before joining the rebels. “The people are sitting without work.”

Another rebel in the back seat, a loud, chatty, unarmed young man, pretended to reach for one of the AK-47s in the SUV: “If I catch you selling for 70 again I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you.”

The gasoline seller looked both confused and scared.

After a few minutes of harassment they drove off. Their warning had been delivered.”

Beckett March 11, 2012 at 2:23 pm
vanderleun March 11, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Wonderful country and wonderful people. Really.

Master of None March 12, 2012 at 10:00 am

When I visited Israel in 2002, my ex-military guides recounted that when Egypt send tanks through the Sinai to attack Israel, many either never arrived or were rendered useless, as the Egyptian soldiers sold parts and ammunition along the way.

I wonder if this type of behavior is endemic to Arab states, or if it happens to some degree in all standing military forces? Could this behavior be correlated/explained by the open corruption among officials? People often do what is expected of them, after all…

Jonathan WR March 13, 2012 at 9:17 am

An example from Africa:

As Congolese/Rwandan soldiers advanced westward through Zaire, Mobutu’s Zairian army officers sold off weapons caches, including to the advancing enemy soldiers: “The destination of the weapons revealed the officers’ extreme cynicism: some were sold back to the Rwandan army in exile, while others were supplied to the RPF across the border. The Zairian army supplied its enemy with some of the bullets and guns it would use to kill them with later.” Jason Stearns, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, p. 118 (2011).

From Stearns’ index:
-Zairian army of Mobutu
-sell weapons to Rwandan army, 118, 122-123

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