U.S. Declares Houthis as a Terrorist Organization

Optimism in Aden, indifference in Sanaa, and suspicious silence of the Islah Party
Abdullah Musleh
January 23, 2024

U.S. Declares Houthis as a Terrorist Organization

Optimism in Aden, indifference in Sanaa, and suspicious silence of the Islah Party
Abdullah Musleh
January 23, 2024

The United States of America has designated the Ansar Allah group (Houthis) in Yemen as a global terrorist entity, against the backdrop of attacks targeting commercial maritime linked to Israel in the Red Sea, with the sanction to enter into force within thirty days, unless the Houthi group halts its attacks.

This American designation is considered a special classification within the “SDGT” scope, which does not entail the imposition of severe penalties, which still allows the flow of food, medicine, and fuel. Additionally, it is not within the “FTO” scope of dangerous groups from an American point of view. 

This American decision comes after 26 military operations carried out by Houthi forces against commercial ships linked to Israel in the Red Sea within 77 days since the implementation of the Sana’a Authority’s decision to prevent the crossing of commercial ships heading to Israeli ports through the Red Sea.

This American designation also comes four days after the launch of the American-British attacks on Yemen, within the so-called “Prosperity Guardian” coalition.

However, the American designation of the Houthis on the global terrorists' list sparked variable reactions among Yemeni political circles, which were divided between overly optimistic support and categorical and violent rejection, and a deceitful position between one and the other.

Government position

The "legitimate" Yemeni government was quick to support this American decision, which it sees as an opportunity to free it from the external pressures that force it to accept a political settlement with the Houthi group which refuses to negotiate with the legal government, and even considers it merely a tool of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

For its part, the legitimate government believes that this decision would adjust the course of international dealings with the Houthis as a terrorist group, and not a political or military party. It also believes that the decision also moves the Houthis from the level of local terrorism to the level of global terrorism, from the government’s point of view.

Regardless of the fact that the components of the legitimate government agreed to welcome the American resolution, each political group hopes that the outcomes of the decision will be in their favor; The Southern Transitional Council is seeking Western support to enable it to effectively control the south of the country, including the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden, while Tariq Saleh’s forces are desperate to obtain Western backing that will enable them to seize the city and port of Hodeida. As for the Islah Party, it remained suspiciously silent. It did not welcome the American decision, nor did it object to the government’s statement supportive to the American resolution, which aims to serve the Israeli entity against the Palestinian people.

Despite the Islah Party’s muteness as a party, voices have emerged of some Islah leaders declaring their rejection of American policies and designation, the latest of which is the statements of prominent leader; Abdul Majeed Al-Zindani in which he hinted at the possibility of rapprochement with the Houthis, stressing the need to reject disagreements between political and religious parties and groups. He further called all Yemeni parties to unify efforts to support the Palestinian people against Western-backed Zionist aggression.

The Houthi Reaction

On the other hand, the stance of the Ansar Allah group (Houthis) focused on downplaying the significance and effectiveness of the American decision on the ground.

The group said in an official statement that this American designation is meaningless and has no importance.

However, in the same statement, the group considered this decision to be unjust and misleading, and that it serves the Zionist crimes committed against the Palestinian people.

Moreover, the head of the Supreme Political Council in Sanaa, Mahdi Al-Mashat, also issued a directive to set a new legislation to include America, Israel, and Britain on the list of terrorist states hostile to Yemen.

In his last speech, the leader of the group, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, said that they would deal with this decision in the same way, and that they would designate America and its allies on the terrorist list.

The Houthi leader stressed that the American classification will not deter them from their stance in support of the Palestinian people, nor will they back down from targeting commercial vessels linked to Israel in the Red Sea. Rather, they added American and British ships to their list of targets.

Furthermore, the Houthi group has escalated the frequency of its attacks on Israeli and American ships, following the US classification decision, despite the continued American air surveillance over Yemen and the continued American bombing of Houthi sites carried out by a number of British and American warplanes. In addition, Tomahawk missiles were launched from submarines and naval destroyers at Houthi targets in Aden, Yemeni cities and governorates. It is worth noting that Tomahawk are strategic and tactical missiles with a long range and it weighs 1.5 tons and equipped with various Combat capabilities, including changing its trajectory after launch. That's why it's called a mobile missile, and it's also equipped with an explosive charge of 450 kilograms. 

The US Stance

Aside from the excessive optimism of the Yemeni government regarding the US decision, and the Houthi indifference towards the designation, the American interpretation of the decision came quickly and clearly through the statements of Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Advisor, and John Kirby, coordinator of strategic communications at the US National Security Council. They stressed that this designation is an important tool to impede terrorist funding to the Houthis, further restrict their access to financial markets, and hold them accountable for their actions.  If the Houthis cease their attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the United States will immediately reevaluate this designation. Sullivan stressed that "the people of Yemen should not pay the price for the actions of the Houthis. We are sending a clear message: commercial shipments into Yemeni ports on which the Yemeni people rely for food, medicine and fuel should continue and are not covered by our sanctions.

The administration of President Biden does not seek to cause further escalation with the Houthis, but at the same time it cannot remain helpless in the face of the increasing Houthi attacks on commercial traffic in the Red Sea, especially in light of internal pressures, which quickly turned into accusations of the Biden administration of leniency and weakness.

It shall be noted that the designation also includes designating the Ansar Allah movement as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist Group” (SDGT) instead of classifying the group as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” (FTO).

While the list of foreign terrorist organizations is created by the US Congress, the list of global terrorist entities comes under an executive order and is independent of Congress, which gives the US president greater freedom and latitude regarding when and how to implement those sanctions, and choose exceptions.

Hence "the designation will take effect 30 days from now, to allow us to ensure robust humanitarian carve outs are in place so our action targets the Houthis and not the people of Yemen. We are rolling out unprecedented carve outs and licenses to help prevent adverse impacts on the Yemeni people" said Sullivan. Further, it also indicates the existence of American efforts to continue indirect negotiations between Washington and Sanaa through Omani mediation.

According to observers, the administration of President Biden is not seeking to cause further escalation with the Houthis, but at the same time it cannot remain idly in the face of the increasing Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, through which 12% of global commercial vessel take route, especially in light of internal pressures that quickly spread and turned into accusations of the Biden administration's leniency and weakness regarding the Houthi attacks threatening maritime navigation and the global economy.

That is why the Biden administration resorted to taking this crucial decision in its appearance, but very flexible in its content, with the aim of pushing the charges against the Democratic Party in light of the launch of party elections to choose candidates for the presidential elections scheduled to be held early next year.

The designation also came after the US-British attack on Yemen, in a non-graded hierarchy, as the effect of the military attack has a stronger impact than a mere frozen decision that is not enforceable until 30 days have passed from the date of its issuance. Rather, it may be cancelable if its causes are no longer present and the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip stops. This is what is expected amid news of an American peace plan that includes discontinuing the war on Gaza and completing Arab normalization with the Israeli entity, in exchange for Israel’s agreement to the two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The bottom line is that; the American sanction to include the Houthis on the terrorist list depends on the developments of events in the Gaza Strip. If the Israeli war on Gaza halts, the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea will stop, and then the effectiveness of the American ban decision will end, and then each party will declare its victory over the other.

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