The U.S. is expected to redesignate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization after a spate of attacks in the Red Sea amid a growing expansion of the Israel-Hamas war.
The Iran-backed Houthis have targeted commercial vessels in the crucial shipping corridor for weeks, claiming to be acting in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel continues its military operation in Gaza.
The Biden administration removed the Houthis’ terrorist designation in February 2021 in order to send humanitarian aid packages to Yemen. The relisting comes as the security crisis in the Middle East shows signs of spiraling, and Iran’s proxy militias — known as the “axis of resistance” — carry out strikes around the region.
Houthis have bottlenecked global trade
The Houthis have achieved “bottleneck power” in the Red Sea, David Ignatius argued in The Washington Post. By controlling a small area of the crucial shipping corridor, they have managed to exploit a vulnerable part of the supply chain. “Houthi leaders seem to understand that the deeper they draw the United States into conflict, the greater impact they have on the global economy,” Ignatius noted, adding that Washington’s massive economic power is dependent on free-flowing trade routes. China, meanwhile, has criticized the U.S. for targeting the Houthis — but needs access to the Red Sea for its own trade deals. Beijing would benefit from cooperation with Washington on managing the crisis, Semafor’s Jay Solomon wrote, but “China has positioned itself as a challenger to the U.S. in the region and has so far refused to back an operation.”
US strikes give Houthis legitimacy
Strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen might actually be welcomed by the Houthis, one expert said. The militia has been seeking a confrontation with the U.S. because it offers legitimacy to their claims, Hisham Al-Omeisy, a Yemen conflict analyst, told German outlet Deutsche Welle. “For the past eight years, they’ve been telling their followers that they are at war with the US and with Israel, so this is a golden opportunity for them that they need to capitalize on,” Al-Omeisy said. Yemen has been gripped by a war since 2014, and the Houthis — formally known as Ansar Allah — have been angling to fill a power vacuum in the country. Houthi leaders have been negotiating a peace deal with Saudi Arabia, which, if adopted, could see them become the legitimate governing authority in Yemen.
Israel’s goals in Gaza more complex than ever
Israel is facing a more complex battle to achieve its goals in Gaza. Palestinians in the enclave have been pushed into ever-shrinking areas, and if the Israel Defense Forces hope to focus on the south, where they believe Hamas operatives are hiding, they risk hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, The Wall Street Journal reported. The high death toll is “something the U.S. is not going to support,” Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at The Arab Gulf States Institute, told the paper. The U.S. and Israel have clashed frequently in recent weeks, with Washington urging Israel to manage the massive humanitarian toll of its campaign in Gaza.