Biden Designates Houthi Terror Group As US Intensifies Counterattacks In Red Sea

Houthi supporters hold rifles as they gather to protest the killing of Saleh al-Samad, a senior Houthi official, by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Hodeidah, Yemen, on April 25, 2018.

Abduljabbar Zeyad | Reuters

The US State Department on Wednesday designated Iran-backed Houthi rebels based in Yemen as designated global terrorists, or SDGTsin an attempt to prevent further attacks on merchant ships crossing the Red Sea.

The SDGT designation triggers an asset freeze aimed at cutting off funding for the Houthis, but it won’t take effect until mid-February. SDGT sanctions specifically do not apply to food, medicine, fuel and other humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen.

“If the Houthis stop their attacks, we can consider removing the designation,” a senior government official told reporters on Tuesday.

It is the next move in the US pressure campaign to loosen the Houthi siege of the Red Sea, which the official called “a textbook definition of terrorism”.

Aerial photo shows Yemenis raising Palestinian-Yemeni flags, the flag of Hezbollah of Lebanon and the emblems of the Houthi group as they protest the violation of Yemeni sovereignty through airstrikes launched by US and UK jets in places in the capital Sanaa and in some provinces on January 12, 2024 in Sanaa, Yemen.

Mohamed Hammoud | Getty Images

The State Department under President Joe Biden was revoked the designation of the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, or FTO, in Feb. 2021, only month after issued the label under former President Donald Trump.

The reversal came in response to calls from the United Nations and humanitarian groups who said the terrorist designation and associated sanctions were “accelerating Yemen’s slide into large-scale famine.”

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Three years later, after months of attacks in the Red Sea, the Houthis have regained their place on a US terrorist list.

This time, the U.S. chose the SDGT designation, as opposed to the stronger FTO designation, in order to better minimize unintended consequences for Yemeni civilians while still deterring the Houthis, the senior government official said.

“The people of Yemen must not pay the price for the actions of the Houthis.”

The latest designation of Houthi terrorists is “part of a broader effort” to stabilize global trade in the Red Sea and prevent regional war in the Middle East, the official added. Since the Houthis began their strikes shortly after the Israel-Hamas war began in October, major shipping giants such as Maersk have stopped doing business in the Red Sea due to security concerns.

The US has used so far trade restrictionsmilitary pressure and international coordination to fight the Houthis, who have vowed to target any naval entity linked to Israel until the violence in Gaza ends.

A grab from pamphlet material released by Yemen’s Huthi Ansarullah Media Center on November 19, 2023, reportedly shows members of the rebel group during the capture of an Israel-bound cargo ship at an unspecified location in the Red Sea.

– | Afp | Getty Images

On January 11, the United States and the United Kingdom carried out strikes against 16 Houthi positions, a step that some experts they fear that a wider conflict in the region will escalate. The White House rejected that estimate.

“Removing, degrading part of their capabilities, [that] it certainly makes it harder for them to carry out these strikes,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at a press conference on Tuesday.

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The US in December also launched Operation Prosperity Guardian, a joint defense force with dozens of countries dedicated specifically to protecting the Red Sea.

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