Ever since the 2015 war in Yemen following the Houthi insurgency, the discussion to list the Iran-backed Houthi militia as a terrorist organization along with other terrorist organizations such as ISIS, Al-Nusra and al Qaeda, has been on the table on an international level.
After more than six years, Biden surprised the world by removing the Houthis from the US list of foreign terrorist organizations, thus allowing a repeat of the Hezbollah scenario in the region by granting them international legitimacy. It is clear that this legitimacy is now being granted by the United States and not by UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths. On February 12th, 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the decision to reverse the short-lived US designation of Yemen's Houthi rebels as a terrorist group as of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021. Houthi leaders Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, Abdul-Khaliq Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi, and Abdullah Yahya Al-Hakim remain subject to US sanctions, in addition to closely monitoring the group’s activities.
The question we must ask ourselves is, how was this decision interpreted by the Houthis who were beginning to deescalate their hostility?
Naturally, it seems that they believed the decision to unlist them to be an exoneration from all the horrendous crimes they committed since September 2014 to the present day. This move was seen as a green light from the US to intensify their Iranian-backed drone and ballistic missile attacks, and therefore, to be on equal footing with Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni legitimate government at the negotiations table through this newfound legitimacy granted by the US.
As a result of the lenient stance of the US towards the Houthis, Saudi Arabia has been targeted by multiple attacks, which is a very dangerous development that not only affects the security of the Arabian Gulf but also the Arab region as a whole.
This unprecedented escalation requires international intervention to discuss ways to support regional and global security and stability, given the difficulties that stand in the way of maintaining security in a sensitive geopolitical region, while maintaining the vital interests of all relevant countries.
As we know, politics are governed by interests, and their only constant is change. This is why we must understand that by removing the Houthis from its list of terrorist organizations, the US began to deal with them in a manner that is similar to how it deals with Iran and Hezbollah, by relying on sanctions and the media.
This approach was evident through the latest actions taken by US Department of the Treasury, which imposed sanctions on two leaders of the Houthis, Mansur Al-Sa'adi and Ahmad Al-Hamzi, for charges of prolonging the war and worsening the humanitarian crisis, as well as on those responsible for attacks against Yemeni civilians and commercial ships in international waters.
The US Department of the Treasury also confirmed that the United States remains committed to holding the leaders of the Houthi militia accountable for their crimes that exacerbated the suffering of the Yemeni people, and blamed the Iranian regime for fueling the conflict in Yemen by providing financial aid and weapons to the Houthi militia and having Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps train and direct the Houthis to attack Saudi Arabia and threaten Yemen’s neighboring countries.
Through its embassy in Riyadh, the US has not hesitated to condemn the Houthi attack on the Jizan region and to call on the Houthis to stop their attacks and engage in the diplomatic process to end the conflict.
It seems that the Houthis are following an approach similar to that adopted by the Irish army to obtain political gains that suit their interests, and to impose a new reality that must be accepted by all, including the US, who opted for using the carrot instead of the stick in its dealings with the Houthis.
In light of current events, we agree with the Yemeni foreign minister who recently stated that the Riyadh Agreement is a model that can be built upon for national reconciliation, and we reject the presence of a militia like Hezbollah controlling Yemen. America’s endorsement has led to clear Houthi military escalation and we can only hope that sanctions against the militia can serve as a political lever for restoring peace.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Emirati publication al-Ittihad.