The United States has announced that it will once again include the Yemeni Houthi rebels on the list of international terrorist organizations due to their repeated attacks on commercial ships transiting the Red Sea.

“[The] [terrorist] designation aims to hold the group accountable for its terrorist activities,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement, assuring that “if the [Houthi] cease its attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the United States will reassess this designation.” This sanction is intended to put “pressure” on the rebel group while preserving the delivery of crucial humanitarian aid to Yemen.

The Houthis have assured that they will continue their attacks in the Red Sea. “We will not give up targeting Israeli ships or ships heading to ports in occupied Palestine (…) in support of the Palestinian people,” said their spokesperson, Mohammed Abdulsalam, in an interview on the channel Al Jazeera.

American and British strikes

The Houthis, part of what they call an “axis of resistance” against Israel, which includes Iranian-backed groups like Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah, attack ships off the coast of the poorest country of the Arabian Peninsula, in solidarity, according to them, with the Palestinians of Gaza, a territory shelled and besieged by Israel.

Over the past few days, the US military has launched a series of strikes against their positions. On Tuesday, the United States again targeted four Houthi rebel missiles that posed an “imminent threat” to merchant and military ships. Last week, US-British forces targeted nearly thirty sites in Yemen. The Houthi spokesperson added that the rebels will retaliate in the event of further strikes by American and British forces in Yemen.

In December, the United States established a multinational naval force to protect shipping in the Red Sea, where about 12 percent of global trade goods pass. “We’re not looking for regional conflict, far from it,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Eight years of war in Yemen

Yemen has been gripped by a conflict for more than eight years between the government, supported by a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, and Houthi rebels, close to Iran. More than two-thirds of its population depends on humanitarian aid, according to the UN.

The United States removed the Houthis in February 2021 from its list of “terrorist organizations”. They judged at the time that this designation complicated the response to a very serious humanitarian crisis in Yemen, a country at war of which the rebel group controls a large part.

By opting on Wednesday to qualify the entity as “specially designated as a terrorist at the global level”, instead of designating it a “foreign terrorist organization”, a broader sanction banning all exchanges, the United States intends to maintain the flow of aid humanitarian in Yemen, which depends very largely on it, explained an American official on condition of anonymity.

“The [Houthi] must be held accountable for their actions, but this must not come at the expense of the Yemenis,” Antony Blinken notes in his statement. It specifies that the United States will take a series of measures within this thirty-day period “to mitigate any negative impact that this designation could have on the Yemeni people.”

At the same time, the US Treasury Department will issue licenses authorizing certain transactions, including those related to the supply of food, medicine and fuel. These American sanctions have the effect of freezing the possible assets of the Houthis and cutting off their sources of financing.