Hamas and Houthis and modernized long-distance guerrilla warfare

(To Germana Tappero Merlo)

The news of missile launches and the use of drones by the pro-Iranian Yemeni Houthis towards Jewish targets such as the port of Eilat, in the southern Negev, in this month of war between Hamas and Israel, confirms their offensive capabilities, among 'other already known for some time, and anticipates possible evolutions of that conflict. In the same direction, and due to the risk of its expansion, the bombings by the United States on the infrastructures of various groups of Shiite militias supported by Iran, both in Syria and Iraq, are also seen as a retaliatory response to their attacks. , in those territories, to American bases and personnel (to date, around sixty injured). The usual scenario, therefore, of regional allies against Israel and the United States, if there were not the novelty represented by the intervention of what has been defined “modernized long-distance guerrilla warfare” of the Yemeni Houthis, converting what might appear to be a large-scale local counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency operation by Israel against Hamas into a war with profound implications for the emerging global order, requiring a counter-terrorism strategy to deal with it as such.

The long war between the Houthis and the regular Yemeni forces but above all that between the Houthis and the regional enemy, Saudi Arabia, at least until the end of 2022, had recorded the widest use of ballistic and cruise missiles, and other air weapons, than any other conflict in recent history1, highlighting how they, although non-state armed group (NSAG), had acquired modernized long-distance guerrilla warfare capabilities, with a preparation that one would not expect from a "gang of ragtag men" and "Yemenite sheepmen", as defined by Israeli military analysts2.

The news of these provocations from the Yemeni sky, to date, is scant but significant: launches of cruise missiles, from the Red Sea towards the north (then intercepted by the USS Carney - photo - and by Saudi air defense on October 19; on the 31st from the system arrow 2 and, on November 9, for the first time by the IDF, from arrow 3) and use of even suicidal drones, with the fall on Egyptian soil (Nuweiba and Taba) or intercepted in flight, were justified in the words of the Houthi leader, Abdulaziz bin Habtour, “as a form of solidarity with the people of Gaza”, but they suggest a proxy war plan by and directed by Iran, which obviously denies it, although Ayatollah Kamenei praised the massacre of October 7th on TV. Not least, a drone Reaper US Army aerial surveillance device was shot down off the Yemeni coast by Houthi anti-aircraft3, confirming that, while within the country, since April 2022, the "truce non-truce" formula seems to hold, i.e. a partial ceasefire without a peace process between the parties, the Houthi offensive in the Yemeni conflict moved to sea with threats in international waters to potentially enemy ships, not only Israeli but also US (USS Eisenhower, USS Carter Hall and USS Thomas Hudner).

We are therefore witnessing a real one vertical escalation in the conduct of irregular warfare, i.e. the tendency towards a gradual or acute increase in the destructive and lethal firepower of non-state actors, in this case the Houthis, but which also seems to belong to Hamas itself (9000 rockets launched on Israel, according to official Jewish sources , and mostly neutralized), while that of Hezbollah is already well known and experienced. All NSAGs who, with their provocations, are also dangerously prefiguring a regional horizontal escalation of the conflict, by proxy and with the direction of Iran, and the tactical support of the rest of theAxis of Islamic Resistance, i.e. Yemen, precisely, with Syria, Iraq and Hezbollah's Lebanon. Among other things, the statements of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah are unlikely “only moral support to Hamas without giving them military support”, given that right from the Lebanese south, and throughout this month of war, his organization has launched, and continues to launch, missiles towards Israel which, inevitably, responds.

In fact, the Houthis' offensive actions against Israel, although part of an unconventional war, given that they employ the traditional "hit and run" guerrilla tactics, in fact use conventional armament such as missiles and drones, with supply, advice and training military by the Iranian IRGC4, confirming the nature of the agent proxy of the Houthis who show, however, that they have achieved self-sufficiency, both in the assembly of smuggled war material from Tehran (with the shuttle of Yemeni fishing boats) and in operations.

Unlike Hamas and Hezbollah, the peculiarity of the Houthis' strategy towards Israel lies in the fact that they do not seek final control of an enemy territory, as instead involves traditional war linked to an offense against state sovereignty by exceeding land borders. Because compared to the era of confrontation between states, for national survival or colonial domination, the war objectives today with the NSAG are more limited, given that they fight even just to destroy a "perceived" rather than real enemy. In fact, they focus only on one obiettivo cornerstone, i.e. the destabilization of the hostile country, through the destruction of its infrastructural networks (ports, airports, communication routes, inter-connectivity) and, as is appropriate in the most classic guerrilla and terrorist operational tactics, through the pure violence against civilians, even better if foreign tourists, as in the case of Eilat.

Also because a central element of this modernized remote guerrilla warfare is the obsessive use of conventional weapons which allow, today, a higher level of precision in hitting a target compared to the weapons with which previous generations of irregular fighters were equipped. However, with the cd paradox of precision the possibility that more precise weapons reduce damage to civilians has been denied: the latter remain, in fact, the preferred target of the NSAGs, definitely configuring them more like terrorist forces than as regular resistance forces.

And it is here that, with the new generation of NSAG, the war from solid and conventional, i.e. that between states, is transformed into a hybrid and liquid war, albeit conventional: it, in fact, adapts perfectly to different contexts, has final targets changeable, but also falls back on heavy armament, the purpose of which is to create terror, always, which comes from land pick up and militiamen "à la Isis" or from the sky with long-range missiles and suicide drones. This is because the parameters on which the most modern geopolitics moves (multipolarism), alongside the most advanced warfare technology, have made geography and physical distance absolutely irrelevant, profoundly changing the socio-spatial dimension of modern wars, where there are no longer clear and defined fronts, since the distribution of fighters does not follow a logic centered on the territory (its control is of little importance)5 as for the final objective which, in this war, for the Houthis, is fundamentally to punish the hated Jewish enemy, undermine the reputation of its political leadership, fuel its destabilization, with the addition of general chaos, even at the risk of a regional war with a high cost of civilian casualties.

4 Overall, the Houthis possess Tochka OTR-21, Zelzal-3, Qaher-1/M2, SCUD-C, Zulfiqar (1500 km), Burkan-1, 2H and 3 (800 to 1200 km): cruise missiles Quds-1 and 2; Qasef-1 and 2k, Sammad-1,2, 3 drones (500 to 1500 km). J. Binnie, Yemeni rebels unveil new missiles in largest parade to Jane's Defense Weekly, September 26, 2022.

5 The only exceptions, at the moment, are the NSAG, the Islamic State with the Caliphate and the Afghan Taliban with the resumption of control of their territory.

Photo: US Navy