The former rebel commander, who also heads a Libyan NGO that helps Syrian refugees in Libya, says most of the weapons and aid are donated free of charge by fellow Libyans. But when the cost of transporting the weapons is high and Libyan funds run dry, he added, a Syrian member of the Muslim Brotherhood flies to Benghazi to provide an injection of cash and coordinate the flow of weapons into Syria.
"What we do is this," explains the organizer. "We ask katibas [rebel units] here in Benghazi to donate weapons and humanitarian stuff for Syria.… People just show up with guns, money, hospital beds, or sugar. So the moment we have enough we rent a ship or plane and get it to Syria via our contacts in Turkey and -- less often -- in Jordan."
Libyan rebels have also sent aid to the Syrian opposition by air. Twenty-seven such flights have occurred to date, says the former commander -- 23 from Libya to the Turkish city of Gaziantep and four to an airport in Jordan. The planes mostly took off from Benghazi, but also departed from Tripoli and the eastern airport of al-Abraq, close to the town of al-Bayda.
"Often these are rather small planes," the former commander says. "Either we Libyans pay, or some of our Syrian friends find money and pick up the bill."
The organizer of the flights said the last plane carrying Libyan weapons left for Gaziantep around late May. From there, the weapons were brought into rebel territory in northern Syria, which borders rebel-friendly Turkey.
The former rebel commander joined one of the shipments by sea to Turkey. Upon arrival, he visited rebel-held territory in Syria and helped the Syrian rebels in handing out the weapons. However, the lack of organization among the Syrian rebel forces was jarring -- even for a man who experienced the Libyan revolt.
"We try to distribute it equally among all the groups," he says, "but there is some rivalry. I have suggested to the Syrians to create one operation room in which all different rebel groups are present. This is also what we did during the Libyan revolution. But until now the Syrians have not followed this example."
The former commander is realistic enough to know that the Syrian rebels will not win the war because of the weapons from Libya. But he voices hope that the arms can help the Syrians better defend themselves, particularly if the Assad regime launches a much-anticipated assault on the northern city of Aleppo. "We know from our own experience with the Qaddafi regime how tough it is to fight against a dictator," he says.
The commander supports the U.S. decision to send military aid to the Syrian rebels, but laments how, until now, hardly any of those weapons have reached Syrian territory. "That's why we are organizing a third shipment with weapons for the Syrian revolution," he says. "A boat with 1,500 tons of weapons and humanitarian aid is currently docked in a Libyan port, ready to sail any moment to Turkey."