In a significant policy shift, the United States has once again designated the Houthis as a “specially designated global terrorist group” (SDGT). This move, less than three years after their removal from the terrorist list, has sparked concerns over potential repercussions and its impact on the already dire situation in Yemen.
Biden’s Decision: A Risky Move or Necessary Action?
Shortly after assuming office in 2021, President Joe Biden removed the Houthis from the “global terrorist” list, emphasizing the acknowledgment of the severe humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Fast forward to the present, and the Biden administration has reversed this decision, citing the need to curb Houthi funding, restrict financial market access, and hold them accountable for their actions.
Humanitarian Concerns: A Tug of War
Experts and humanitarian organizations have voiced apprehension over the implications of this decision. Afrah Nasser, an expert at the Arab Center in Washington, warns of devastating consequences for Yemeni civilians caught in the crossfire of Houthi policies and international decisions. The UN and various lawmakers have previously cautioned against listing the Houthis as terrorists, fearing disruptions to crucial humanitarian aid.
A Brewing Crisis: Yemen’s Unstable Landscape
Yemen faces a multifaceted crisis, with more than half its population requiring assistance due to economic challenges, inflation, and the prolonged conflict. The Houthis, controlling a substantial part of Yemen, have been engaged in conflicts with a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, exacerbating the humanitarian situation.
US Justification and Skepticism: A Delicate Balancing Act
Secretary of State Antony Blinken justifies the SDGT designation, linking it to Houthi attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea. However, skeptics, including Brian Finucane of the International Crisis Group, question the effectiveness of such measures, suggesting the move may be more about optics than substantive change.
The Unfolding Escalation: Houthi Actions and International Response
Houthi attacks on commercial ships, including those in the Red Sea, have drawn condemnation from the US and its allies. In response, the US formed a naval alliance and conducted missile raids on Houthi targets. The Biden administration contends that the SDGT designation is aimed at the Houthis, not the Yemeni people, emphasizing accountability rather than punitive measures.
Challenges and Consequences: Unraveling the SDGT Designation
While the SDGT designation freezes Houthi assets in the US and prohibits financial transactions, it falls short of the broader “foreign terrorist organizations” (FTO) list imposed by the Trump administration. Critics argue that the move lacks teeth and may not significantly impact the Houthis.
Potential Ramifications: A Delicate Diplomatic Dance
The risk of escalation looms large as the Houthis respond to the SDGT designation with a missile launch at a US ship. Experts caution that this decision could be perceived as an insult, further fueling Houthi hostility and recruitment efforts.
Mitigating Adverse Impacts: A Balancing Act
In an attempt to address concerns, Secretary of State Blinken assured that the decision would be reevaluated if Houthi attacks in the Red Sea ceased. The US Treasury Department plans to issue licenses allowing specific transactions related to vital supplies for Yemenis, such as food, medicine, and fuel.
The Way Forward: Navigating Diplomacy and Humanitarian Needs
The Biden administration faces a delicate situation, attempting to balance national security interests with humanitarian concerns. Critics argue that the decision may exacerbate Yemen’s instability, putting civilians at greater risk.
Conclusion: A Call for Reconsideration
As the US moves forward with its decision to list the Houthis as an SDGT, the international community watches with bated breath. The delicate dance between diplomatic actions and humanitarian imperatives underscores the complexity of navigating the troubled waters of Yemen’s crisis.