Daily Mail

The Houthis and Hamas both have very clear strategies DO WE?

- ANALYSIS By Mark Almond Mark Almond is director of the Crisis Research Institute, Oxford

After his brilliant, unconventi­onal tactics had helped to secure victory for the Allies in the Middle east at the end of the first World War, Lawrence of Arabia was summoned by an Australian general.

Colonel t.e. Lawrence, just 30 years old and a visionary soldier, expected to be congratula­ted for his efforts.

Instead, the general unleashed a foulmouthe­d tirade, warning him that if he didn’t ensure that electricit­y and running water were immediatel­y restored in Damascus – now part of Syria – the city would collapse back into war and chaos. A century on, the West needs to learn that very lesson.

Mere victory in the Arab world, even if it can be achieved, will never be enough. It is essential to give the population good reasons to want peace. that’s what Israel has consistent­ly failed to do with the Palestinia­ns, and what Britain and America never managed to do in Afghanista­n.

Now we are wading into a fresh conflict in Yemen against the ferocious Houthis – part-warrior tribes, part-religious sect – and we appear to have no plan other than to bomb them into submission. It just won’t work.

Of course, we have no option but to return fire on this ragbag terrorist militia that threatens to block the red Sea portal to europe’s most vital trade route, the Suez Canal. the Houthis have been firing at Western cargo ships with missiles and drones, and blazing away at the naval flotilla whose mission is to protect civilian sailors. We repeatedly warned the rebels to back down, and they answered our diplomatic efforts with more barrages of explosives. foreign Secretary David Cameron is right to insist that Britain must ‘back our words and our warnings with action’.

America has carried out at least eight rounds of air strikes, and Britain has joined them twice in just ten days.

failing to retaliate would only invite more attacks.

Butwarfare without objectives is mere wasted lives and weaponry. And so far, neither Joe Biden nor rishi Sunak has set out a clear policy with a defined endgame: it’s as if they themselves aren’t sure what exactly they’re trying to achieve.

In contrast, the Houthis have a very clear strategy. Keep firing on shipping and hope for a bullseye. If significan­t damage can be inflicted on an Allied warship – or even a sinking – the humiliatio­n for the West will be terrible.

And if the Houthis successful­ly hole a supertanke­r, which is more likely, the economic ramificati­ons would be colossal. As well as the effects on the insurance markets (Lloyd’s of London would take a massive hit) and the potential for catastroph­ic pollution, the world trade map might have to be redrawn.

europe would be largely cut off from suppliers in China and South east Asia. Container ships would have to sail around the Cape of Good Hope, south of Africa: a route unfeasible for many and more expensive for all. On Sky News this week, a Leftwing commentato­r was sneering that this was a non-problem, which would do little more than slow down Amazon deliveries and deprive us of the latest smartphone­s for a few weeks. that is spectacula­rly naive.

Without imports of oil and hightech goods, this island nation would grind to a halt. to be cut off from the rest of the world would be an economic torment. We survived isolation during the Second World War only by the most supreme national effort. I doubt that we could do it again.

that comparison is important, because as Defence Secretary Grant Shapps warned last week, we are sliding into internatio­nal conflicts on multiple fronts, in ways that to me are troublingl­y reminiscen­t of the 1930s.

the Allies, in tandem with the Soviet union, defeated Nazi Germany through sheer force of arms: total war. today, no one in the West has the stomach for that, and any sane person would wish to avoid it at all costs.

there is no appetite even to commit to a modest presence of British or American boots on the ground in Yemen.

Israelis continue to show dauntless courage in the aftermath of the barbaric slaughter by Hamas terrorists on October 7 last year. But even that small Middle eastern democracy is reeling this week from the deaths of 24 soldiers during intense fighting on Monday, their worst toll in a single day so far.

Compare that to the worst days of the world wars – more than 57,000 British casualties on July 1, 1916, on the Somme. even if total war in Yemen were an option, we lack the arsenal and the leadership. Our Armed forces have been depleted until they are paper-thin in places, and the combinatio­n of supporting Israel and ukraine has virtually exhausted some supplies.

russian attacks are increasing­ly hitting their targets in Kyiv because stocks of defensive missiles are running low. In the red Sea, the Americans fired off 60 tomahawk missiles in a single blitz, about a third of the US’s total annual production. that’s unsustaina­ble.

In any case, we won’t win against the Houthis by grinding them into submission, just as Israel cannot pound Hamas into oblivion. Kill one fanatic, and three more take his place.

Although the Houthis and Hamas are – thank God – nowhere near as powerful as Nazi Germany was, their Islamist ideology has a grim appeal for many in their society, especially young men. the groups appeal to the long tradition of jihad or holy struggle against the infidels.

for all that the Nazis liked to invoke the heroic imagery of Valhalla, Hitler could not offer his soldiers an afterlife in return for their sacrifice. But the Houthi cult, a mixture of Shi’ite Islamist rhetoric and ancient tribal traditions, promises instant bliss for its martyrs. In a society where sexual repression is the norm, the prospect of 72 virgin wives waiting for every warrior in heaven is a powerful motive.

If we are to defeat Houthi and Hamas fanaticism, then, the West has to offer these men hope of a better life here on earth.

Again, we can learn from experience: Nazi propaganda stoked the fears of German civilians with the spectre of defeat, but Britain and America confounded this by feeding the population and restoring essential services.

As in Damascus in 1918, getting the water and electricit­y back online for ordinary Germans proved crucial.

THEWest was willing to pay a huge price, once peace was restored, to kill off any nostalgia for Nazism – even enduring increased rationing in Britain, so we could feed German families.

Winston Churchill was a great advocate of compassion for the defeated, partly out of common decency and partly out of shrewd calculatio­n. During the Soviet blockade of West Berlin three years after the end of the Second World War, Germans welcomed the Lancasters and B19s that had been dropping bombs on them in 1944. the planes were now bringing in food and coal – and were known as the ‘bon-bon bombers’.

In just the same way, the surest way to undermine a religious death cult is to offer something worth living for – real material prosperity.

fighting an ideology is not just a battle of ideas. We will have to use force before we can employ persuasion. And we have to recognise that both will be costly – and no short-term fix.

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