Tuesday, June 11, 2024
 
 

US designates Yemen’s Houthis as terrorist organization

Washington is allowing for a 30-day implementation delay in order to consult with stakeholders and humanitarian assistance providers

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The Biden administration announced on January 17 that it is re-designating the Houthis, an Iranian-backed, Yemeni Shia Islamist group, as a terrorist organization. The move reverses the White House’s own lifting of the Trump-era terrorist designation, saying that decision had been made to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance into war-torn Yemen.

Despite the fact that US forces are now actively engaged in combat with the Houthis, the Biden administration has not moved as aggressively as it could have, raising questions in conservative Washington circles. The latest move declares the Houthis as a “specially designated global terrorist” entity in a measured step aimed at blocking Houthi access to the global financial system and freezing any American assets as well as potential Houthi travel to the US.

This designation falls short of the more powerful option at the Biden administration’s disposal, that of re-designating the Houthis as a “foreign terrorist organization,” as the Trump administration had done.

It remains to be seen how the newest US sanctions, once in place, will impact routine commercial transactions with Yemen as well as aid shipments, although most of these will be specifically exempted.

On January 25, the US and UK jointly announced that they would be placing sanctions on four Ansarallah military officials specifically for their support of the Houthi attacks on international shipping.

There will undoubtedly be attempts at circumventing the new sanctions and some of the announced measures could significantly impact transactions involving the sizeable community of Yemeni-origin American citizens, another reason the US Government is moving with a measured pace.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has hosted the spokesman of Yemen’s Houthis, Mohammad Abdul-Salam in Tehran on several occasions.

The State Department’s January 17 announcement said:

The Department of State today is announcing the designation of Ansarallah, commonly referred to as the Houthis, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group, effective 30 days from today.

Since November, the Houthis have launched unprecedented attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, as well as military forces positioned in the area to defend the safety and security of commercial shipping. These attacks against international shipping have endangered mariners, disrupted the free flow of commerce, and interfered with navigational rights and freedoms. This designation seeks to promote accountability for the group’s terrorist activities. If the Houthis cease their attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the United States will reevaluate this designation.

The Houthis must be held accountable for their actions, but it should not be at the expense of Yemeni civilians. As the Department of State moves forward with this designation, we are taking significant steps to mitigate any adverse impacts this designation may have on the people of Yemen. During the 30-day implementation delay, the U.S. government will conduct robust outreach to stakeholders, aid providers, and partners who are crucial to facilitating humanitarian assistance and the commercial import of critical commodities in Yemen. The Department of the Treasury is also publishing licenses authorizing certain transactions related to the provision of food, medicine, and fuel, as well as personal remittances, telecommunications and mail, and port and airport operations on which the Yemeni people rely.

Today’s announced action is being taken pursuant to Executive Order 13224, as amended, which targets terrorists, terrorist organizations, leaders of terrorist groups, and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism. Ansarallah is being designated for having committed or attempted to commit, posing a significant risk of committing, or having participated in training to commit acts of terrorism that threaten the security of United States nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States. This designation and the associated general licenses will be effective on February 16, 2024.

The Houthis first emerged as a major movement in Yemen in the 1990s but did not come into their own until the January 2015 start of the latest Yemeni civil war. In the nine years since the start of the ongoing conflict, Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah have provided arms, training, and financial support to the Houthis. The terrorist group’s ultimate goal is to control all of Yemen and support external movements against the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

Attacks by the Houthis on ships in and around the Red Sea that began in November have slowed trade between Asia and Europe and alarmed the world’s major powers. The Houthi attacks in the Red Sea have severely disrupted maritime trade through the Suez Canal, with some vessels having been re-routed to the much longer East-West route via the southern tip of Africa, adding at least an extra ten days to most such journeys.

Despite loud claims heard in the global media when the attacks began, there is still no clear evidence that this trade diversion has significantly added to global inflationary pressures, but it has unquestionably made the job of western central bankers, that of bringing inflation down to the target of around two percent, a bit harder.

The West’s response to the Houthis’ attempts to terrorize civilian ships has been a combination of limited military air and missile strikes, as well as January’s round of punishing sanctions.

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CEO/Editor-in-Chief.  Former US diplomat with previous assignments in Eastern Europe, the UN, SE Asia, Greece, across the Balkans, as well as Washington DC.

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