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Analysts: Labeling Houthis ‘Terrorists’ Won’t End Yemen War
A Houthi rebel stands guard on a rooftop in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on October 29 during the annual ceremony commemorating the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. (Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)

Analysts: Labeling Houthis ‘Terrorists’ Won’t End Yemen War

Trump Administration reportedly mulling addition of Iran-backed Shi’ite rebels to list of groups using or supporting terror   

The Trump Administration is considering designating Houthi rebels in Yemen a terrorist group, according to numerous news reports.

The purpose of such a measure ostensibly would be to assist the besieged but internationally backed government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi by isolating the Shi’ite Houthis and creating an additional burden for their patron, Iran, the reports said.

Y

et experts believe this will not help end Yemen’s long civil war.

“Designating an insurgency group as a terrorist group is pure semantics and will have an impact on neither the conflict in Yemen nor the attempts by external parties to find a diplomatic solution,” Dr. Andreas Krieg, a fellow at the Institute for Middle Eastern Studies and assistant professor at the School of Security of King’s College London, told The Media Line.

Designating an insurgency group as a terrorist group is pure semantics and will have an impact on neither the conflict in Yemen nor the attempts by external parties to find a diplomatic solution

What’s more, former US ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein, senior vice president at the Middle East Institute in Washington, says the US lacks grounds for labeling the Houthis terrorists.

“There would be no justification for [assigning this designation to] the Houthis, who bear substantial responsibility for the ongoing conflict in Yemen but are not ‘terrorists,’” he told The Media Line.

“It’s unclear what purpose this move would be intended to achieve,” he continued. “Similar proposals have been made in the past but have not been implemented primarily because they serve no discernible purpose.”

Similar proposals have been made in the past but have not been implemented primarily because they serve no discernible purpose

When asked to comment, a US State Department spokesperson told The Media Line: “We do not publicly discuss deliberations or potential deliberations regarding possible designation actions.”

Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 after the Houthis commandeered Saada Province in the North, and later the capital city, Sanaa. The following year, a Sunni Muslim coalition led by Saudi Arabia and including the United Arab Emirates and other countries was formed to make targeted airstrikes against the Houthis on behalf of the Yemeni government. The US, the UK and France assisted in these efforts.

The Houthis now control almost all of Yemen’s major cities.

Congress voted to cease US involvement in Yemen in April 2019, although President Donald Trump vetoed the legislation.

Feierstein contends that labeling the rebels terrorists would be counterproductive to US policy, which is to help broker a peace deal there and in the wider region.

“Designating the Houthis as terrorists would make constructive US engagement in finding a diplomatic solution to the Yemen conflict and supporting the UN Special Envoy’s efforts extremely difficult,” he said.

Designating the Houthis as terrorists would make constructive US engagement in finding a diplomatic solution to the Yemen conflict and supporting the UN Special Envoy’s efforts extremely difficult

“Resolving the Yemen conflict can be an important step in reducing overall regional tensions,” he noted, “so obstacles to resolving it would be detrimental to regional stability.”

Krieg says a terrorist designation would hurt attempts by Washington’s European allies to bring about a peace deal.

“It will make it harder for Westerners to engage the group once [it is so] designated,” he said. “For the Europeans, this will send the wrong signal, as they believe in an inclusive decision that needs to have the Houthis at the table as well.”

For now, though, it would make little difference in Europe.

“None of the EU countries are dealing with the Houthis directly, so it will not affect them,” Krieg said.

President Trump might have political reasons for the designation, he says.

“The move by the Trump Administration has to be seen within the light of [its] ideological stance against Iran and its surrogates in the region,” he stated.

Feierstein, who served as ambassador to Yemen under former president Barack Obama, said the move might be connected to President Trump’s defeat by President-elect Joe Biden, who will take office on January 20.

“One theory of why this idea has resurfaced at this moment is that it is part of the Trump Administration’s overall effort to poison the well for the incoming Biden administration, and make it more difficult for the president-elect to pursue new diplomatic initiatives in the region,” he explained.

One theory of why this idea has resurfaced at this moment is that it is part of the Trump Administration’s overall effort to poison the well for the incoming Biden administration, and make it more difficult for the president-elect to pursue new diplomatic initiatives in the region

Abdulghani Al-Iryani, a senior researcher at the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies, believes that labeling the Houthis terrorists would make both the political and humanitarian situations in Yemen worse. 

“The peace process will end and the Houthis will continue their advance into eastern Yemen,” Iryani, who formerly worked for the UN Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, told The Media Line.

“Yemenis will see the coalition and their partners closing the door to national reconciliation, and their choice will be either endless war or shifting [back] to the Houthis to have a swift end to the war,” he said. “They’ll choose the latter.”

Yemenis will see the coalition and their partners closing the door to national reconciliation, and their choice will be either endless war or shifting back to the Houthis to have a swift end to the war. They’ll choose the latter

The designation might also isolate the civilians living under Houthi control, who desperately need aid.

“The result,” Iryani said, “will be a full-fledged famine.”

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen “remains the worst in the world.” UNICEF says that about 80% of Yemen’s population, including more than 12 million youth, requires aid to survive.

Did you know we’re celebrating our 20th Anniversary as the 1st American News Agency exclusively covering the Middle East?

  • The Middle East landscape is changing rapidly.
  • The roads in the region open to new possibilities.
  • The Media Line continues to pave the way to a far greater understanding of the region’s land, people, policies and governments through our trusted, fact-based news.

We’re an independent, ad-free, non-profit news agency and rely on friends like you!

Please make your gift today as we have a most generous matching 2:1 grant.
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