Balkan arms transfers to the Middle East and risks of diversion to armed groups

Since 2011, small arms and light weapons flows from the Balkans to the Middle East have increased sharply. While Iraq remains logically the largest importer of Balkan weapons in the region, Saudi Arabia has also established itself as a major customer. Others, in particular Turkey, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, have also greatly expanded their arms purchases. The main exporting country to the Middle East is by far Bulgaria, followed by Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia. The curve of their exports rises dramatically, with record sales in 2015 or 2016.

Yet, some of these weapons were diverted to diverse non-state armed groups operating in Syria, including "subsidiaries" of Al-Qaeda, and even Islamic State. The lax policy of the exporters is not alone to blame. These transfers are actually part of a strategy that goes well beyond the Balkan and the Middle East.

Photo credit: Serbian machine gun M02 Coyote used by a rebel in Syria (2016) - source: ARES (Armament Research Service) via Facebook.