U.S. to relist Houthis as global terrorists amid escalating Middle East tensions

U.S. to relist Houthis as global terrorists amid escalating Middle East tensions

SANA'A, YEMEN - JANUARY 16: A Yemeni man browsing the news on his laptop screen that broadcasts U.S.-U.K. warships amid news spread relating to the attack on the Zografia ship in the Red Sea, on January 16, 2024, at his home in Sana'a, Yemen. The military spokesperson of Yemen's Houthi group brigader Yahya Sareea, said in a statement that they attacked the Zografia ship that was heading to Israel in the Red Sea with naval missiles. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)
SANA'A, YEMEN - JANUARY 16: A Yemeni man browsing the news on his laptop screen that broadcasts U.S.-U.K. warships amid news spread relating to the attack on the Zografia ship in the Red Sea, on January 16, 2024, at his home in Sana'a, Yemen. The military spokesperson of Yemen's Houthi group brigader Yahya Sareea, said in a statement that they attacked the Zografia ship that was heading to Israel in the Red Sea with naval missiles. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)
Images source: © GETTY | Mohammed Hamoud
6:09 AM EST, January 17, 2024

In a significant policy shift, the Biden administration is set to announce the redesignation of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen as specially designated global terrorists. This move is in response to the Houthis' intensified attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea, seen as a critical international shipping corridor. The decision reflects a broader concern about escalating tensions in the Middle East.

Background and implications

The relisting of the Houthis, initially removed from the terror list in 2021 by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to facilitate humanitarian aid into Yemen, marks a stark reversal in U.S. policy. The Trump administration had previously designated the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, which human rights groups had criticized for potentially exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The new designation, however, stops short of the more severe Foreign Terrorist Organization label, which includes sanctions for providing "material support" and travel bans. This approach aims to mitigate the impact on Yemeni civilians while addressing the security concerns posed by the Houthis.

Yemen's humanitarian crisis and global impact

Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, faces a severe humanitarian crisis, with millions at risk of hunger and disease. The ongoing war and misgovernance have left approximately 24 million people in need of assistance. The Houthis control a significant portion of Yemeni territory, complicating efforts to deliver aid. The U.S. and its allies are concerned about the broader implications of Houthi attacks on global trade and economy, particularly in the vital Red Sea region. These attacks have led to disruptions, including diversifying thousands of commercial ships and rising oil prices.

International response and outlook

The situation in the Middle East, particularly the actions of the Houthis and their Iranian backers, is drawing international attention. U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan emphasized the need for a collective response to the Houthi threat, underscoring its impact on global trade and security. The U.S. has responded to the Houthi aggression with air and sea strikes, signaling a more assertive stance. The complexity of the situation is highlighted by the interconnected nature of regional conflicts, with the Israel-Hamas conflict and Iranian influence playing significant roles.

The upcoming U.S. announcement and its implications reflect a challenging balance between addressing security concerns and preventing further humanitarian disasters in Yemen. The situation remains dynamic, with the potential for both escalation and de-escalation depending on regional and international actions.

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