Annual sales of small arms and light weapons to Middle Eastern countries nearly doubled in dollar terms in 2013 over the year before, as conflicts heated up across the region, according to a study released Monday.
Meanwhile, the U.S. was both the biggest exporter and importer of weapons ranging from pistols and military firearms to hunting rifles, ammunition and anti-tank guns, according to the report.
"Trade Update 2016: Transfers and Transparency," a study by the independent research project Small Arms Survey found that small arms and light weapons imports in the Middle East rose to $630 million in 2013 from $342 million in 2012, the latest years for which data was available.
According to the study, the world's biggest small arms exporters — countries that export at least $10 million per year in such weapons — delivered about $6 billion in weapons and ammunition in 2013 — a nearly 17 percent increase from 2012.
Nocolas Florquin, senior researcher for the Small Arms Survey, said the increase in imports of such weaponry to the Middle East coincided with the intensification of conflicts in countries including Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
Florquin said there is some evidence of the "retransfer" of small arms without authorization from importing countries to some of those conflicts. For example, U.N. investigators found ammunition and pistols in Libya that could be traced back to importers in the region — despite an arms embargo, he said.
"There is evidence that some importing states were involved in unauthorized retransfers of materials in the past, either to conflict zones or even circumvented U.N. arms embargos such as the one in Libya," he said.
With $1.1 billion in sales, the U.S. was the leading exporter of small arms and light weapons, followed by Italy and Germany. The three countries accounted for almost 40 percent of exports of such weapons in 2013.
The U.S. led imports purchasing $2.5 billion in small arms, including everything from ammunition to hunting rifles to military firearms.
The U.S. mission to the U.N. did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Researchers looked at trade data, including from the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database, and national arms exports reports, for their report.
The Small Arms Survey is an independent research project located at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. It is supported by the Swiss Foreign Ministry and contributions from 10 countries including the United States and the European Union.