US designation of Houthis as terrorist to facilitate Yemen settlement

The decision is expected to increase pressures on the Houthis so they accept concessions in any future negotiations to find a solution to the war in Yemen.
Tuesday 12/01/2021
A boy rides with Houthi followers on the back of a patrol truck during the funeral of Houthi fighters killed during battles against government forces, in Sanaa,. (REUTERS)
A boy rides with Houthi followers on the back of a patrol truck during the funeral of Houthi fighters killed during battles against government forces, in Sanaa,. (REUTERS)

Aden - Yemeni political sources said they expect the US decision to designate the Houthis as a terrorist group to curtail the Iran-backed group’s movement, its regional and international activities and its financing sources. It will also increase pressure on the Houthis to make concessions in any future negotiations on a final settlement.

The sources warned, however, against direct reactions from the group in the coming period, which could include targeting the international shipping waterways in the Red Sea in an attempt to blackmail the international community.

The sources also expect other international entities to designate the Houthis as a terrorist group, with the exception of the European Union, which prefers to link its stance towards the Houthis to its position on Iran and negotiations with Tehran about the “nuclear issue,” which may resume after with the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden.

The sources indicated that Arab countries known to support the Houthi group politically, in the media and financially and that have hosted some of the militant group’s leaders could be affected by repercussions from the US designation, as their support for or harbouring of Houthi leaders would now be considered a form of support for a terrorist group.

Yemeni political researcher Saeed Bakran said the decision to designate the Houthi group as a terrorist organisation was widely welcomed by Yemenis. However, he added that that the most important development to watch is the performance of the “legitimacy” government and how it takes advantage of the designation and uses related pressure on the Houthis to generate military or political progress.

Bakran told The Arab Weekly that some of the expressed concerns about the decision’s effects on the peace process are exaggerated. He believes that the decision may, on the contrary, have some positive effects as it could push the Houthis to make concessions and display the type of flexibility that it has lacked in recent years.

A statement issued by the US State Department on Monday said that the department will inform Congress of the designation of the “Ansar Allah” Houthi group as “a foreign terrorist organisation under Article 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Law, and an international terrorist entity specifically listed under Executive Order No. 13224.”

The statement indicated the US State Department intends to “include three leaders of Ansar Allah, namely Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, Abdul-Khaliq Badr Al-Din al-Houthi and Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim, on the list of specially listed international terrorists.”

The statement said the listings are “additional tools to counter the terrorist activities of Ansar Allah group,” which it described as “an armed group supported by Iran and operating in the Gulf region.”

The Yemeni government welcomed the US decision to classify the Houthi group as a foreign terrorist organisation, noting that it “is consistent with the Yemeni government’s demands to punish these terrorist militias.”

In a statement, Yemen’s foreign ministry and expatriates called for “intensification of all political and legal pressures on the Houthis in order to create conditions conducive to a peaceful solution to the conflict, so as to achieve a final solution to this tragic and protracted conflict in Yemen.”

Yemeni journalist and researcher Rammah al-Jabri said the designation of the Houthi militia as a terrorist organisation is a step that came too late, but will carry advantages in providing support for the legitimate government and the Arab coalition.

In a statement to The Arab Weekly, Jabri said that “designating the Houthis as a terrorist organisation will place the UN envoy in a very difficult position (…) and in return, gives the legitimate government an important opportunity to override the agreements that the Houthi militia did not abide with or accept to implement, including the Stockholm Agreement in Hodeidah.”

He pointed out that the international standing that Washington enjoys effectively makes US sanctions “international sanctions,” especially since the three Houthi leaders designated as international terrorists by Washington were subjected to sanctions by the UN Security Council in 2014. In addition, the designation places the Houthi militias in political and economic isolation and reduces their chances of dealing with international organisations and entities or being recognised by them.

Jabri stressed that the US decision is a preemptive step by the US President Donald Trump’s administration before any possible move by the Biden administration in the Yemen war.

He added, “there is no economic impact inside Yemen that could affect the Houthi militia, but the decision will place the personalities supporting the Houthi militia under international watch, especially the Houthi leaders who are present in the sultanate of Oman.”