How Yemen’s Houthis’ well-deserved terrorist label gives Biden important leverage

Newly recruited Houthi fighters chant slogans during a gathering in the capital Sanaa to mobilize more fighters to battlefronts to fight pro-government forces in several Yemeni cities. (AFP/File Photo)
Newly recruited Houthi fighters chant slogans during a gathering in the capital Sanaa to mobilize more fighters to battlefronts to fight pro-government forces in several Yemeni cities. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 30 January 2021

How Yemen’s Houthis’ well-deserved terrorist label gives Biden important leverage

Newly recruited Houthi fighters chant slogans during a gathering in the capital Sanaa to mobilize more fighters to battlefronts to fight pro-government forces in several Yemeni cities. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Foreign Terrorist Organization is fitting designation for militia long known for targeting civilians
  • Biden administration would be well advised to make the most of the Trump administration’s last-minute decision

LONDON: Joe Biden, the newly inaugurated US president, is using his first days in office to review many of his predecessor’s policies and executive orders. How his administration handles its strategic inheritance, particularly with regard to Iran and its proxies, notably the Yemeni Houthi militia, could well shape the Arab region’s opinion of his nascent presidency.

On Jan. 10, Mike Pompeo, the outgoing secretary of state, announced the State Department would designate the Houthis (also known as Ansar Allah) as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization.” Three Houthi leaders — Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, Abdul Khaliq Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi and Abdullah Yahya Al-Hakim — were declared Specially Designated Global Terrorists with effect from Jan. 19.

“The designations are intended to hold Ansar Allah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure, and commercial shipping,” Pompeo said.

“The designations are also intended to advance efforts to achieve a peaceful, sovereign and united Yemen that is both free from Iranian interference and at peace with its neighbors.”




A picture taken on June 19, 2018 shows debris of Iranian-made Ababil drones displayed Abu Dhabi, which the Emirati armed forces say were used by Houthi rebels in Yemen in battles against the coalition forces led by the UAE and Saudi Arabia. (AFP/File Photo)

One reason why the Trump administration was able to achieve a lot in the Middle East was probably its readiness to call a spade a spade. And Pompeo’s description, by all accounts, was spot on. The war in Yemen escalated in 2015 when the Iran-backed Houthis overthrew the UN-recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. A coalition of Arab states, backed by the US, Britain and France, launched a military campaign to restore the legitimate government to power.

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Since then, repeated attempts to reach a peace settlement have foundered, with the militia’s representatives failing to attend UN-brokered talks in Geneva in Sept. 2018 and its combatants willfully ignoring the terms of the Stockholm and Riyadh agreements.

An April 2020 ceasefire announced by the coalition at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic quickly fell apart when the Houthis resumed cross-border drone and missile strikes targeting Saudi Arabia.

For the Yemeni government, any peace agreement with the Houthis would be contingent on the militia breaking its ties with Tehran — a development that is highly unlikely at present.

Iran’s support for the Houthis has been an open secret since long before the Houthi takeover of Sana’a in 2015. It has caused the brutal war to rage on unabated and one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises to fester.

The conflict, now in its sixth year, has left 112,000 dead and 24 million in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

The Houthis have repeatedly targeted civilian population centers in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Most recently, 27 people were killed when a Houthi missile targeting ministers of the newly established Yemeni government struck Aden’s international airport on Dec. 30.




A picture taken March 26, 2018 in Um Al-Hammam district in Riyadh shows the pierced ceiling of a home hit by falling shrapnel from Houthi missiles that were intercepted over the Saudi capital. (AFP/File Photo)

In April last year, five women were killed in a suspected Houthi strike on a prison in the city of Taiz — an act forcefully condemned by aid groups. Houthi missiles have even hit civilian facilities in Riyadh, including its international airport in Nov. 2017.

The group has also routinely targeted Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure. A July 2018 attack hit two Saudi crude carriers on the Red Sea while a May 2019 strike on two oil-pumping stations near Riyadh damaged a key pipeline.

The most damaging of all Houthi-claimed attacks was a Sept. 2019 drone and missile strike on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq and Khurais oil facilities, which sent shockwaves through the global crude market.

Although the Houthis claimed responsibility, investigators suggested the strike involving Iranian-supplied hardware may have originated from the north.

Biden’s foreign-policy team may also recall three attacks on the US navy in 2016 when he was Barack Obama’s vice president — by a militia whose actions matched the notorious words of its slogan “Death to America. Death to Israel. Curse on the Jews.”

The USS Mason was targeted on Oct. 9, 2016, by two missiles fired from Houthi-controlled territory while deployed near the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait off the coast of Yemen. The projectiles failed to cause any damage.

Three days later, the Mason was targeted again, with one missile falling short while the other was intercepted. USS Nitze, which was also deployed to the region, retaliated the following day, destroying three radar sites in Houthi-held territory.

On Oct. 15, the Mason was targeted a third time, this time in the Red Sea. All five anti-ship cruise missiles were neutralized or intercepted.




Houthi leader Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi delivers a speech in he Yemeni capital Sanaa on November 9, 2019. (AFP/File Photo)

Given this behavior, it is surprising that the Houthis did not land the terrorist designation then, although historians would probably chalk it up to the Obama administration’s wish to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear accord at any cost.

Foreign military vessels have not been the only targets. The Houthis have launched repeated attacks on ports and ships in recent years, routinely planting marine mines in the southern Red Sea and in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait in the path of commercial shipping.

The militia has also repeatedly rebuffed UN pleas to allow an inspection team to enter the FSO Safer, a 45-year-old oil tanker abandoned off the port of Hodeidah with 1.1 million barrels of crude on board, to conduct urgent repairs. In an extraordinary session, the UN expressed fears on July 15, 2020, of “catastrophe” if the vessel ruptured into the Red Sea.

Against this backdrop of proxy wars in the Middle East, Pompeo’s boss, Donald Trump, pursued a policy of “maximum pressure” against Tehran, withdrawing the US from the Obama-era nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions on Iran.




Members of displaced Yemeni families who fled battles between government forces and Houthi fighters near the Hodeidah airport share a meal on the balcony of of a school used as temporary housing inside the city. (AFP/File Photo)

The strategy was matched by a zero-tolerance approach to Iranian influence in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, as well as to its role in harboring leaders and operatives of Al-Qaeda.

Notably, although not surprisingly, the findings of an Arab News-YouGov pan-Arab survey conducted in late 2020 suggest that Biden would be wise to shed the Obama administration baggage. The most popular response (53 percent) was that Obama left the region worse off, with another 58 percent saying Biden should distance himself from Obama-era policies.

With Houthi attacks on civilian targets triggering condemnations from inside and outside Yemen and prompting calls for more pressure on the leadership, the State Department’s “terrorist” designation gives Biden vital leverage for future negotiations both with the Houthis and their patrons in Tehran.

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Twitter: @RobertPEdwards


Rights groups urge EU to protect life on sea route from Libya

Rights groups urge EU to protect life on sea route from Libya
Updated 5 min 40 sec ago

Rights groups urge EU to protect life on sea route from Libya

Rights groups urge EU to protect life on sea route from Libya
  • Estimated 20,000 people have died or disappeared in central Mediterranean in last decade
  • Human Rights Watch: ‘People are drowning while European leaders squabble’

LONDON: Leading rights groups have called on the EU to protect lives on the main Mediterranean route between Libya and Europe. 

Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International and the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) on Wednesday published an action plan to promote safe pathways on the precarious route from North Africa.

The 20-point plan gives guidance on how the EU could ensure safe and predictable disembarking opportunities and relocation responses for people rescued. 

“It is shameful and tragic that EU countries can’t agree on something as fundamental as saving lives at sea,” said Judith Sunderland, HRW’s associate Europe and Central Asia director. “People are drowning while European leaders squabble.”

An estimated 20,000 people have died or disappeared in the central Mediterranean in the last decade. According to the UN, some 664 people have died or gone missing so far this year. 

HRW accused the EU of “withdrawing responsibility,” noting that the bloc has since March 2019 been withdrawing its ships from areas where unseaworthy boats carrying migrants and refugees are most likely to be. 

Libya’s Coast Guard has intercepted and returned to the country more than 11,700 people this year, with up to 1,000 migrants returned on June 12 alone.

People recovered and returned to Libya face being detained in “nightmarish detention centers and experiencing abysmal conditions, violence, and forced labor,” HRW said.

It added that the EU should abandon its policy of assisting the return of migrants and refugees to Libya, and urgently adopt one that ensures migrants are relocated to a safe place. 

HRW called for new relocation arrangements so EU member states can share the responsibility of migration from Libya more equally.

EU heads of state are expected to discuss migration policy at the next European Council meeting on June 24-25 in Brussels.


Egypt authorities hand documents on student murder to Italian envoy

Egypt authorities hand documents on student murder to Italian envoy
Updated 16 June 2021

Egypt authorities hand documents on student murder to Italian envoy

Egypt authorities hand documents on student murder to Italian envoy
  • Regeni was carrying out research on independent trade unions in Egypt when he disappeared in 2016
  • Regeni’s mutilated body was found on a roadside and bore signs of torture.

CAIRO: Egypt’s Public Prosecutor, Hamada El-Sawy, on Wednesday handed two official copies of the public prosecution’s report — in Arabic and Italian — on the murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni to the Italian envoy in Cairo, Giampaolo Cantini.
The report said there was currently no basis for filing a criminal case because the perpetrator of the crime is unknown, but search authorities have been told to step up their investigation.
Regeni, 28, a Ph.D. student from Cambridge, was carrying out research on independent trade unions in Egypt when he disappeared on Jan. 24, 2016 in central Cairo.
At the time large numbers of police were in the area because of expected protests.
Regeni’s mutilated body was found on a roadside on Feb. 6, 2016. It bore signs of torture.
Police initially said that the student had died in a road accident. But an Italian autopsy showed that his body had cuts, broken bones and other injuries indicating he had been severely beaten.  
Egyptian authorities have denied that police were involved in Regeni’s torture or death.
The case has strained relations between the two countries, with Italy recalling its ambassador in protest. Diplomatic ties were restored in August 2017 after the Italian government said that it would return its envoy and continue the search for the killers.
Also present at the meeting on Wednesday were Giulia Mantini, first secretary at the Italian Embassy, and Badr Abdel Atti, Egyptian assistant foreign minister for European affairs.
The Italian ambassador also received the Kenyan judicial authorities’ response to a request for legal assistance sent by the Egyptian public prosecution.
The request was in response to a Kenyan police officer’s claim that during a security meeting in Nairobi an Egyptian police officer had admitted taking part in Regeni’s abduction. 


Lebanese army in crisis mode ahead of donor conference

Lebanese army in crisis mode ahead of donor conference
Updated 16 June 2021

Lebanese army in crisis mode ahead of donor conference

Lebanese army in crisis mode ahead of donor conference
BEIRUT: The Lebanese army is in desperate need of donor assistance to survive one of the world’s worst financial crashes, it said Wednesday ahead of a UN-backed fundraising conference.
Unlike previous donor conferences designed to provide training, weapons or equipment, the virtual meeting France hosts Thursday aims to offer the kind of humanitarian assistance usually reserved for countries grappling with conflict or natural disaster.
“We are in need of food parcels, health care assistance, and support with soldiers’ pay,” a military source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“The devaluation of the Lebanese pound is affecting soldiers and they are in need of support. Their salaries are not enough any more.”
Lebanon’s economic crisis, which the World Bank has labelled as one of the world’s worst since the 1850s, has eaten away at soldiers’ pay and slashed the military’s budget for maintenance and equipment, further threatening the country’s stability.
Already in July 2020, the army said it scrapped meat from the meals it gives for soldiers on duty, due to rising food prices.
“We are doing the impossible to ease the suffering and the economic woes of our soldiers,” army chief Joseph Aoun said in a speech on Tuesday.
“We are forced to turn to allied states to secure aid, and I am ready to go to the end of the world to procure assistance so that the army can stay on its feet.”
Thursday’s conference will see participation from Lebanon’s International Support Group, which includes Gulf states, European countries, the US, Russia and China.
It follows a visit by Aoun last month to Paris,where he warned that the army could face even darker days without emergency support.
“The Lebanese army is going through a major crisis, which could get worse due to the deteriorating economic and social situation in Lebanon, which may worsen when subsidies are lifted,” he said.
He was referring to a government plan to scrap subsidies on essential goods such as fuel, food and flour to shore up dwindling foreign currency reserves.
The army has been relying heavily on food donations from allied states since last summer’s monster port explosion in Beirut that killed more than 200 people and damaged swathes of the capital.
France, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey are among the army’s main food donors.
Iraq and Spain have offered medical assistance.
The United States remains the biggest financial backer of the Lebanese military.
It has bumped up funding for the army by $15 million for this year to $120 million.

Palestinian woman shot dead by Israelis in West Bank after attempted attack

Palestinian woman shot dead by Israelis in West Bank after attempted attack
Updated 16 June 2021

Palestinian woman shot dead by Israelis in West Bank after attempted attack

Palestinian woman shot dead by Israelis in West Bank after attempted attack
  • Palestinian health ministry said the soldiers responded with fire toward the assailant and neutralized her

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian woman was shot dead in the West Bank on Wednesday after attempting to ram Israeli soldiers with her car and attack them with a knife, the army and Palestinian health ministry said.
The Israeli army said “an assailant arrived in her car and attempted to ram into a number of IDF soldiers” near Hizma, south of Ramallah, before she “exited her vehicle with a knife drawn.”
“The soldiers responded with fire toward the assailant and neutralized her,” it said, with the Palestinian health ministry pronouncing her dead.


US envoy for Yemen heading to Saudi Arabia for ceasefire talks

 US envoy for Yemen heading to Saudi Arabia for ceasefire talks
Updated 16 June 2021

US envoy for Yemen heading to Saudi Arabia for ceasefire talks

 US envoy for Yemen heading to Saudi Arabia for ceasefire talks
  • Tim Lenderking will aim to reach a “comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire” in Yemen
  • He has visited the region six times since being appointed by Biden

DUBAI: US President Joe Biden’s special envoy for Yemen will meet with Saudi officials this week in the latest round of diplomatic talks to resolve the years-long war, the State Department said Tuesday.

Tim Lenderking, who has visited the region six times since being appointed by Biden, will aim to reach a “comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire” in Yemen.

In a statement, the State Department said that “Lenderking will travel to Saudi Arabia on June 15-17 where he will meet with senior officials from the Governments of the Republic of Yemen and Saudi Arabia, as well as UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. Throughout the trip, Special Envoy Lenderking will discuss the latest efforts to achieve a comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire, which is the only way to bring Yemenis the relief they so urgently need,” the statement added.

Since Biden took office, the US administration has increased mediation efforts between both countries while easing sanctions on the Iran-backed Houthis. Despite his efforts, the Houthis have maintained their attacks on Saudi Arabia, undermining peace talks.

On Sunday, a Houthi explosive drone destroyed part of a school in the kingdom’s southwestern region of Asir.

“The United States also recognizes Saudi Arabia’s efforts to advance implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, which is essential to stability, security, and prosperity in the south of Yemen,” Washington said.
“Additionally, Special Envoy Lenderking will continue to press for the free flow of essential commodities and humanitarian aid into and throughout Yemen.”