WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will name the Houthi rebels in Yemen as a foreign terrorist organization, four US officials familiar with the decision leaked on Sunday, and use one of his last resort tools against Saudi Arabia’s enemy to kill the Risk of a worsening famine in one of the poorest nations in the world.
It’s not clear how the terrorist designation will inhibit the Houthi rebels, who have been at war with the Saudi-backed government in Yemen for nearly six years, but do not pose a direct threat to the United States, according to some analysts.
Mr Pompeo will announce the appointment in his last full week as Secretary of State and more than a month after meeting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who began a military intervention with Arab allies against the Houthis in 2015. This campaign has killed civilians, destroyed infrastructure and exacerbated a humanitarian crisis that has left millions of hungry Yemenis.
State Department spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday evening, and the US officials who confirmed the nomination spoke on condition of anonymity as it had not been announced. The upcoming announcement was reported by Reuters early Sunday evening.
The addition of the Houthis to the Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations means that fighters within the relatively decentralized movement are cut off from financial aid and other material resources channeled through US banks or other American institutions.
However, the main patron saint of the Houthis is Iran, which continues to send support despite strict US economic sanctions, making the effect of the term on the rebels more symbolic than scorching.
For the rest of Yemen, however, the name is sure to make the devastation worse.
Experts said it would cool off humanitarian efforts to donate food and medicine to Houthi-controlled areas in north and west Yemen, where much of the country’s 30 million people live, fearing the aid would be confiscated by the rebels and used for Profit used that could be attributed to aid organizations. The rebels also control the capital, Sana, and parts of the strategic port city of Hudaydah, where much of the humanitarian aid from around the world is unloaded.
The United Nations estimates that around 80 percent of Yemenis are dependent on food aid, and nearly half of all children suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition. On November 20, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said Yemen was “now in immediate danger of the worst famine the world has seen in decades”.
“I urge everyone who has influence to take urgent action on these issues in order to avert disasters, and I urge everyone not to take any measures that could worsen the already dire situation,” said Guterres. “Otherwise we risk a tragedy not only through the immediate loss of life, but with consequences that will continue to have an indefinite effect in the future.”
Some Houthi leaders had already been selected for American terrorist sanctions. The broader term against the entire movement has been scrutinized by the Trump administration for years.
The fact that Mr Pompeo is issuing it now in the final days of the government is a token of his determination to keep his signature-printing campaign against Iran going as long as possible.
The United States has accused the Houthi rebels of acting as proxy for Iran trying to destabilize neighboring Saudi Arabia by hurling missiles across the border and hitting the oil fields. However, a major attack on two state oil factories in Saudi Aramco in September 2019, which the Houthis claimed to have carried out, appeared to be far more ingenious than the rebel’s previous strikes.
This indicated that Iran was directly involved, as the Trump administration has claimed despite Tehran’s opposition.
“The Trump administration could have used its ties to Saudi Arabia over the past four years to move closer to a solution to the conflict,” said Ariane Tabatabai, a Middle East scholar from the German Marshall Fund, a public order think tank a recent interview in anticipation of the designation. “Instead, the government decided to send blank checks to Saudi leaders.”
She predicted that the terrorist designation was part of a strategy to force the administration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to maintain the hard line on Iran – or risk the political consequences of facing “domestic critics and.” regional partners must explain why this is so and reverse sanctions. “
The Trump administration has steadfastly supported Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Yemen war, providing billions of dollars in intelligence and weapons about the objections of Congress despite indiscriminate bombings that killed civilians and other military atrocities that could constitute war crimes.
In October, the rebels released two American hostages and the remains of a third in a prisoner swap that also allowed about 240 Houthis to return to Yemen from Oman. The liberated Houthis included militants captured by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and officials who had traveled to Oman for international peace talks and were not allowed to go home.
Beyond the looming famine, the term terrorist could also seal the fate of a huge rusty oil tanker that moored off the west coast of Yemen.
Compared to a floating bomb, the decaying ship, the FSO Safer, is not far from the port of Hudaydah, due in part to the buildup of flammable gas it may be carrying in its tanks. If it either explodes or just falls apart, it could spill more than 1.1 million barrels of oil into the Red Sea, destroying its ecosystem, which is four times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989.
About half a dozen Houthis are on board the ship, along with a small crew of government-backed engineers from the state-owned company that holds the title, said Ian M. Ralby, the executive director of IR Consilium, a maritime security consultancy. The terrorist designation could prevent UN negotiators from working with the Houthis as soon as possible to repair the ship or otherwise defuse the threat it poses.
“If we don’t want Yemen to lose a whole generation,” said Ralby, “we have to withdraw this designation.”
Edward Wong contributed to the coverage.