International pressure is growing on Washington to return Yemen’s Houthi rebels to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs), where they were included by the Trump administration and removed by the current administration.
Biden justified his decision as necessary to get humanitarian aid to the Yemeni population. In fact, the most influential resistance to re-designating the Tehran-sponsored Houthi rebels as FTOs is from humanitarian aid groups.
Yemen, with about 29 million people, has a 75% poverty rate and reported more than 200,000 cases of cholera in 2020. The NGO Humanity & Inclusion estimates that 16 million Yemenis are food insecure, 15 million lack access to clean water and 4 million have been displaced. But much of that is due precisely to the actions of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. These rebels are, along with Hezbollah and Hamas, the main disruptive terrorist forces in the Middle East. They are Iran’s best weapon to weaken U.S. influence in the region by threatening Israel and the Gulf states. Something Beijing is already taking advantage of to increase its influence in the area.
The Houthi rebels are using Yemen’s population as hostages. If they are designated as FTO by Washington they could respond by preventing the entry of humanitarian aid. This is classic terrorist blackmail and giving in to it ends up worsening humanitarian crises. When terrorists see that their control over hostage suffering is the key to the success of their extortion, they continue to make the hostages suffer in order to continue to get their way.
Rewarding the Houthis by removing them from the list of foreign terrorist organizations was a huge mistake that has weakened America’s standing with its Gulf allies, strengthened Iran and made it easier for the mainstream leftist media in the West to look the other way in the face of crimes against humanity by Tehran-sponsored terrorist organizations.
The Islamic regime has fought relentlessly since 1979 to extend its influence and export its revolution. This month’s drone and missile attacks by the Houthis against the United Arab Emirates were the first sign of the real cost of the Biden administration’s “humanitarian” policy in the face of Tehran-sponsored terrorists because the power behind the Houthis is Iran and its long history of violence against the United States and its allies. Iranian agents plotted to assassinate by assassination the Saudi ambassador to Washington. They also planned to assassinate a U.S. ambassador to South Africa, as well as kidnap and murder Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad in Brooklyn.
In addition, Yemen’s internationally recognized government has disclosed intelligence reports indicating that the Houthis cooperate with al-Qaeda and ISIS. It is important not to forget the crimes of ISIS against civilians under its control during its self-proclaimed Caliphate over areas of Syria and Iraq between 2014 and 2017. Among other things, we saw innocent civilians thrown from buildings and burned alive in cages.
Anything the terrorists perceive as signs of weakness from Washington will succeed in spreading their action further across the Middle East. The Houthi attacks on the United Arab Emirates have already demonstrated this.
Beijing will be watching closely how Washington deals with the threat posed by the Houthis. So will Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. So will America’s allies, such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Australia, the Philippines, Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. Beijing can indirectly support Iran to extend the crisis and, taking advantage of Washington’s signs of weakness, offer security to the allies that Biden leaves “in the lurch” in order to build a longed-for global imperial projection.
An urgent first step for the Biden administration to begin rebuilding the weakened confidence of Washington’s allies, both in the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific, would be to re-designate the Houthi FTO rebels.