Biden’s foreign policy team is facing another setback when a clan-based militia government in one of the poorest countries in the Arab World is attacking the rich oil and banking centers of the Gulf.
Faced with three strikes in a row, U.S. officials are looking into financial measures to target the Houthis as well as the top figures of the group. As soon as this week, new sanctions may be possible.
This is the latest attempt by the administration to bring the Houthi leaders to peace talks and end an eight-year war on Yemen. The war has left a terrible legacy for a nation of millions that has suffered from mismanagement and wars.
This escalation has made Yemen one of the conflicts that keeps America deeply involved in the Middle East, despite President Joe Biden’s promise to concentrate on the core challenges including the rise of China.
Houthi fighters launched the latest attack on the United Arab Emirates as Israel’s President visited the UAE. The attacks left the 2 000 American military personnel stationed at Al-Dhafra Air Base, the capital of the emirates, hiding in bunkers and firing Patriot missiles as a response. This is a rare return fire. According to the UAE, its missile defense batteries intercepted Houthi fire.
U.S. officials are trying to ensure that Gulf strategic allies like Saudi Arabia and UAE have U.S. defense support.
Biden assured reporters that America would have the support of its friends in the region after Monday’s strike, which were among the contributing factors to rising global petroleum prices.
Lloyd Austin, Defense Secretary, spoke Tuesday to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan about increased U.S. military actions, such as sending the USS Cole guided-missile destroyer to Abu Dhabi, and deploying advanced fighter planes.
Early on, administration officials were surprised and frustrated by the determination of the Iran-backed Houthis to continue fighting for more territory against a Saudi coalition that has the best U.S. weapons available.
Biden’s administration began by removing the U.S. military from Yemen’s conflict, where both sides have been accused of human rights violations, and pushing for peace negotiations. Houthis resented diplomats and their peace-talks effort and launched more offensives.
“What I would like… is that the administration has now acknowledged that strategy, regardless of its rightness in February 2021, was not working and they need to change it,” stated Gerald Feierstein, Obama’s Ambassador to Yemen, from 2010 to 2013.
In retaliation to the Houthis’ drone and missile strikes into the UAE by the Houthis, the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis has increased airstrikes against Sanaa, the Houthi capital. These strikes follow sporadic strikes on Saudi territory. Retaliatory airstrikes have increased civilian casualties and been condemned by U.N. officials as well as some Democrats in Congress. They haven’t stopped the Houthi attack drones and missiles.
Analysts believe the strikes are an implicit threat to Israel’s support for the Houthis.
Houthis is a family-led movement that originated in northern Yemen’s mountains. It emerged as one the most powerful of many groups competing for position in Yemen in the last decade of political turmoil.
The Houthis moved south and captured the capital as well as much of the northern region. The United Nations and Saudi Arabia backed Yemen’s government fled to exile in Saudi Arabia. Saudi-backed coalition was aided by U.S. troops until the Biden administration declared last year that it would cease offensive support. They fought to rebuild the exiled government. As the war continues, Iran has been supporting the Houthis more and more. This includes with what the UAE claims were missiles that were fired into its territory.
Problem is: After diplomatic efforts have failed to make any headway and the Saudi-led alliance has not won militarily, nobody seems to have great ideas on how to end the violence.
Houthis feel that they can do whatever they want right now,” Fatima Alasrar, a Yemeni and Gulf analyst at the Washington-based Middle East Institute said about the Houthis. “Because it’d be disastrous if other countries or the U.S. intervene.”
Biden said last month that he was contemplating returning the Houthis terrorist group to the List of Foreign Terrorist Groups, which President Donald Trump gave in his final days as an Office Holder.
Biden was the first to take the Houthis of the terrorist list. The Emiratis and Saudis have tried to get them back. This designation prohibits financial and other transactions with the Houthis. Opponents claim that the designation did not have any impact on the Houthis group, which is an isolated group with few financial transactions overseas. However, it has impacted fuel and food shipments to Yemen where about 80% of the population live under the de facto Houthi government.
Feierstein, the former ambassador to the United States, and others believe that the Biden administration could create a new terrorist designation in order to reduce the impact on humanitarian organizations and other conduits of vital commodities.
Humanitarian groups warn that even the slightest hint of U.S. relisting could drive away fuel and food businesses, driving up prices and making it impossible for many to afford basic necessities.
Amanda Catanzano (Vice President of Policy, International Rescue Committee) said, “That’s the thing we fear most for a nation that has suffered this much, and for this long.” “Where more that half of the population is starving, and 5,000,000 people are at risk of starvation.”
Abo Alasrar stated that individual sanctions against Houthi leaders could alarm those individuals and make them aware that the United States is aware of them.
Abo Alasrar stated, “That would be frightening for them.” “And here’s where things might actually be real.”