Observers are not surprised by the US administration’s move to revoke the designation of the Iran-backed Houthi militia as a foreign terrorist organization; it serves the purpose of undermining the legacy of former President Trump, who classified them as a terrorist group in his last days in office. The new administration has been promising, since the presidential election days, to change most decisions made by the former president, with Yemen-related issues at the top of that list.
This decision to revoke the terrorist designation has, however, surprised many parties, both in the US and abroad, including Republican Senator Tom Cotton, who released the following statement: “The Houthi rebels are armed and trained by Iran’s overseas terror corps, the IRGC and Hezbollah. They fire missiles at civilians and American sailors while chanting ‘Death to America.’ And they’ve plunged Yemen into a protracted war that has immiserated the Yemeni people. If that’s not terrorism, I don’t know what is.”
The international community, which is represented by the United Nations, major states, and some US officials, has been turning a blind eye to the transgressions of Houthis against Yemenis, and it is the direct cause behind everything that has been happening in the country since the coup d'état that targeted its legitimate regime. For that reason, the international community decried Trump’s designation of Houthis as terrorists, including the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, who predicted the potential humanitarian impact of this decision to be “a large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years.” This fully disregards the fact that Houthi gangs are the ones preventing aid from reaching Yemenis by stealing it and reselling it in the market or keeping it for themselves.
Back in January, the recently appointed National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan tweeted, “Houthi commanders need to be held accountable, but designating the whole organization will only inflict more suffering on Yemeni people and impede diplomacy critical to end the war.” As if Houthis are not the ones hindering diplomatic efforts every time they heed Tehran's orders.
In addition to that, several Congressmen called on then-Secretary of State Pompeo to clarify the terrorist designation as if they were not aware of the Houthis’ flagrant violations of human rights, their full responsibility for everything that is happening on the ground in Yemen, their continuous rejection of peace talks over the years, and their utter disrespect of the ceasefire.
By contrast, the National Alliance of Yemeni Political Parties and Forces stated that the Houthi militia has been “committing crimes against humanity since its sinister and bloody coup against the state, turning the Yemeni people in their areas of control into hostages and harnessing national resources for the purposes of war and its continuation.”
On another front, relief organizations, the European Union, and many other parties felt provoked by the terrorist designation and strongly criticized it while arguing that it would exacerbate the dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The UN Under-Secretary-General even called for revoking the terrorist designation under the pretext of allowing relief agencies to deliver supplies. Washington had also stated at the time that the designation would not be enough to avoid famine as if Yemen was blessed with the food security bestowed upon it by the Houthis before, and as if Houthis did not confiscate aid and food supplies received by Yemen. Some observers confirm that the Houthis are using Iran's missiles not only to disrupt international trade but also to attack food shipments to Yemenis. A terrorist designation, according to those Houthi sympathizers, is the only reason for the Yemen crisis, not the actual acts of the Houthis.
In reality, those protesting the terrorist designation are the reason behind the prolongation of the war, and the Houthis flouting all international resolutions. It is no secret that these organizations and those in charge of them are bribed by Iran and others who have vested interests in the continuity of Yemeni issues. The stances of these parties reflect the enormity of the decisions that do not seem to pave the way for peace as much as they strengthen rebels at home and abroad.
Many analysts question the seriousness of the US, the international community, and international organizations when they claim they wish for an end to Houthi terrorism, when this step rather adopts a rewarding, instead of a punishing, approach towards Iran.
This interpretation aligns with the view expressed by former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who criticized revoking the terrorist designation of the Houthis, describing this step as a “gift to the Iranians,” and stating that “it will allow the Houthis to continue to foment terror around the world.” He also tweeted,
“It’s a fact that Iran is sponsoring the Houthis. It’s a fact that the Houthis are conducting terror.”
What the US and the entire international community are currently offering the Houthis and their sponsor, Iran, with the pipe dream that it would open a pathway for peace, gives us an eerie sense of déjà vu. This decision is a throwback to when Obama tried to appease Iran and provide it with material and moral support, which only made the Iranians haughtier and more arrogant. As a result of tolerating them and turning a blind eye to the actions of their terrorist militias in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria, Iranians tightened their grip over four Arab capitals as soon as Obama’s term ended.
The removal of Houthis from the terror list leaves many observers skeptical. In light of the developments that followed on the ground, in terms of intensified attacks on our country and on Yemeni grounds, as well as their failure to engage with diplomatic efforts, the Wall Street Journal criticized the new US administration's decision, describing it as a “gamble,” and stressing that “undermining friends and emboldening adversaries [Houthis and Iran] is not a good formula for peace.”
The WSJ quoted the US State Department spokesman who said, “As the President is taking steps to end the war in Yemen and Saudi Arabia has endorsed a negotiated settlement, the United States is deeply troubled by continued Houthi attacks. We call on the Houthis to immediately cease attacks impacting civilian areas inside Saudi Arabia and to halt any new military offensives inside Yemen.” These expressions of concern that many world politicians offer are mere words that are never coupled with actions.
In conclusion, the Houthi attack on the Abha International Airport sparked widespread Arab and international condemnation and raised serious questions about the reasons behind the new US administration’s decision to remove Houthis from the list of terrorist organizations. Some even hold the US president, the international community, and the UN and its envoy Martin Griffiths responsible for the recent Houthi escalation. This is a significant humanitarian and ethical test that should force these parties to take the side of humanity, rights, and justice, and redesignate the Houthi militia as an Iran-backed terrorist group.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi Arabian outlet al-Riyadh.