Yemeni tribesmen hold position during clashes with Al Houthis west of Taiz (File) Image Credit: AFP

inally, the United States has taken the right decision to classify Yemen’s rebel militias, Al Houthis, as a foreign terrorist organisation following the escalation by the Iran- sponsored group of its attacks on Saudi civilian border areas and on oil tankers in the Red Sea.

The designations are intended to the terror group “accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure, and commercial shipping,” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a statement.

Washington also plans to designate three of the group’s leaders, Abdul Malik Al Houthi, Abd Al Khaliq Badr Al Din Al Houthi, and Abdullah Yahya Al Hakim, as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists.”

A senior State Department official noted that the decision was based on the group’s involvement in terrorist activities, including a missile attack on a Saudi airport in 2019 and another on a Saudi oil distribution station in 2020.

Trump administration had been mulling this decision for some time but it apparently delayed to give the UN- sponsored talks a chance. However, the recent escalation of attacks by Al Houthis on Saudi civilian population and facilities in the southern border areas and the series of attacks on oil tankers shows that neither the militia nor its masters in Tehran are interested in peace.

The UN has so far failed to produce any tangible results in the ongoing talks due to the failure of Al Houthi to honour promises on the negotiation table. The deal on the handover of Al Hodeida port to UN supervisors, singed in 2019, has yet to be implemented by the group despite a great deal of pressure from the UN and the EU.

Monday’s decision by the US is absolutely the right move at the right time. While some aid groups claim the decision could complicate their humanitarian work in the war-ravaged country. On the contrary, designation of the group as a terror organisation will actually put ample pressure on its leaders and their backers in Tehran to finally heed the UN calls for a peaceful settlement, which is obviously stalled by Iran.

Tehran clearly would want to use the conflict in Yemen as a bargaining chip in its expected talks with the upcoming Biden administration on a new nuclear deal. The US decision has effectively stripped Tehran of that card.

Meanwhile, the move gives the UN elbow room in its talk with the militia to end the war and the suffering of millions of Yemenis, especially following the Riyadh agreement that led to the formation of a unity government in Aden.