November 12, 2014 Special Dispatch No. 5880

'Al-Hayat' Editor: We Live In An Age When Small Armies Make Large Changes

November 12, 2014
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 5880

In an October 20, 2014 article, Ghassan Charbel, editor-in-chief of the London-based daily Al-Hayat, wrote that the Houthi rebel's takeover of Sana'a and northern Yemen is another example of a phenomenon that characterizes our times, namely that ideologically-motivated terrorist organizations with small armies manage to impose their will and dictate the agenda of countries in the Middle East. Large armies, Charbel says, are no longer relevant, for they are helpless in the face of the determination and efficiency of these militias. Thus, just as the Houthis have imposed their rule upon San'a, Hizbullah imposes its will upon Lebanon, ISIS has take over parts of Syria and Iraq, and Hamas imposes its will on the Palestinian Authority.

The following are excerpts from Charbel's article.[1]

Ghassan Charbel (image:

The Small Houthi Army Met No Opposition As It Marched On Sana'a

"The Arab follows the developments in Yemen as he would follow an entertaining television show. A small army [i.e., the Houthi Ansar Allah organization], whose strongholds in Sa'dah [province] had become too narrow for it, began moving on Sana'a. It was a fun trip. [The organization] did not encounter the regime's regular forces, which had once fought it, nor any patrol of the internal security apparatus. No city policeman asked it for papers. In this entire country, with so many weapons, tribes, and [factions], Ansar Allah did not encounter anyone who fought against it.

"The fall of Sana'a like a ripe fruit [into their hands] whetted the Houthis' appetite. In the second episode of the series [they captured] the city of Al-Hudaydah, its sea port, and the Bab Al-Mandeb [sea] route. A small army advances and a large army runs for cover. As it advances, the small army grows rich in equipment [taken] from the large army's bases: tanks, artillery, and ammunition.

"[Yemeni] President 'Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi acted like an Austrian [UN] observer, and [UN Special Advisor on Yemen] Jamal Benomar acted like a journalist. [The Houthi] tanks are more tangible than the ink of the agreements [between the Houthis and the president]. The president was forced to obey the [supreme spiritual] guide of the Yemeni republic [probably a reference to Houthi leader 'Abd Al-Malik Al-Houthi]. The people of southern [Yemen] saw the small Houthi army take over the [entire] north, and reacted by raising the banner of independence. Yemen exploded.

"[The Houthis' intentions] were no secret. Last March I heard President Hadi say that the Houthis wanted to reach the Red Sea. He [also] said that those whoever held the keys to [the Strait of] Bab Al-Mandeb and the Strait of Hormuz did not need an atomic bomb, implying that Iran was behind the Houthi activity... Seven months after he made these statements, the Houthis realized their plan with unprecedented ease... What is certain is that we are at the onset of a dangerous time for Yemen and its surroundings. The most dangerous thing that can happen is that Al-Qaeda become a symbol of Sunni resistance to the Houthi plan."

"A Small Army Called ISIS Carried Out A Grand Coup And Pushed Iraq Into Another Explosion"

"We [live] in a time of small armies. A small army called ISIS carried out a grand coup and pushed Iraq into another explosion. Iraqi army divisions collapsed one by one in the face of its attacks. American weapons fell into the hands of this small army that erased the border between Iraq and Syria, and if hadn't been for another small army – the Peshmerga – hastening to unite and stand fast [against it], ISIS would have now enjoyed the oil of Kirkuk, and the Kurds would have faced something worse than Saddam [Hussein]'s Operation Anfal.[2] The small army staged a massive coup, as evidenced by the regional and international panic that gave rise to the [international] coalition and the airstrikes [against ISIS]. Prior [to the formation of the coalition], the Iraqi army feared for Baghdad, and asked for the help of the masses, namely of small armies [i.e., of the Shi'ite militias that were forming to fight ISIS following the fall of Mosul]."

The Syrian Army Could Not Have Kept Damascus Without The Help Of Small Armies: Hizbullah And Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haqq

"The Syrian army cannot be compared with the Iraqi army. It has shown impressive unity during the long war [in Syria]. However, it controls [only] parts of Syria's territory, and some say that this large army would not have kept Damascus if it hadn't been saved by the small armies sent [to Syria] from Iraq and Lebanon with the blessing of Iran. I refer to Hizbullah and [the Iraqi Shi'ite militia] Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haqq. It is no small thing that the Hizbullah army rescued the Syrian army from its confrontation with the Free Syrian Army, the Jabhat Al-Nusra army, and the ISIS army. Hizbullah changed the course of the Syrian crisis...

"Lebanon is no exception when it comes to small armies. It experienced them during the civil war. [Later,] after May 7, 2008, Hizbullah claimed veto rights over the decisions of the Lebanese regime. A government cannot be formed without its consent, and a president cannot be elected without its blessing. Its participation in a government does not mean that it recognizes [the government's] exclusive authority to take decisions about war and peace. Its actions in South Lebanon confirm this, as does its intervention in Syria."

The Coup Staged By Hamas' Small Army In Gaza Changed The Course Of The Palestinian Cause

"Hamas and Islamic Jihad are [also] part of the array of small armies. The 'Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades have launched more than one war and have developed their [own] rocket arsenal. Hamas is unique in that it was the only Sunni [faction] in the resistance axis. The deepening of the sectarian [Sunni-Shi'ite] conflict in Syria prompted it to leave [this axis], but this does not change the fact that the coup carried out by its small army in Gaza changed the course of the Palestinian cause."

The Region Is Full Of Small Ideologically-Motivated Armies That Do Not Recognize International Borders

"These are [all] small and ideologically-[motivated] armies. Their wars [transcend the borders traced] on traditional maps, and their sources of authority do not recognize [these] international borders. They are well-trained and well-equipped armies. They are united and [demand] absolute discipline... They are capable of taking over the decision-making in countries, and of breaching international borders. Their problem is that they represent only part of the citizenry, and that the damage they cause drives others to panic or to terrorism. The large armies themselves become small armies when they control [only] parts of a country or rely on [only] part of the people. It is difficult for a small army to take over the entire map of a heterogeneous country. The power of small armies tears maps apart.

"This is the first time we see such a [large] number of small armies on the regional map. There are also new armies that are emerging this very minute. In Libya, [for example], small armies are emerging that exist in the shadow of the large ones but rely on other sources. Life under the shadow of large armies was tiring [enough]. Life under the shadow of small armies apparently leads to torn maps or to the formation of small homelands."




[1] Al-Hayat (London), October 20, 2014.

[2] Saddam Hussein's campaign against the Kurds of northern Iraq in 1986-1989, which included poison gas attacks.

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