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Biden Administration Must Be Firm With Iran-Backed Houthis – OpEd

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By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh*

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US President Joe Biden said last week that he is considering redesignating the Iranian-backed Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization. Without a doubt, the Houthis’ activities and policies make it imperative that the group is returned to the terrorist watch list.

This is a Yemeni militia that commits crimes against humanity and recruits children for war. The Houthis also use landmines to control and kill civilians. Human Rights Watch’s “World Report 2020” stated that “Houthi-planted landmines across Yemen continue to harm civilians and their livelihoods. Houthi forces have been using anti-personnel mines, improvised explosive devices, and anti-vehicle mines along the western coast of Yemen, resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths and injuries… Landmine use has been documented in six governorates in Yemen since 2015. Since January 2018, at least 140 civilians, including 19 children, have been killed by landmines in just the Hodeidah and Taiz governorates.”

The Houthis also routinely use various methods of torture, including beating detainees “with iron rods and rifles” and hanging them “from walls with their arms shackled behind them.”

By removing the Houthis from the terrorist list last year and cutting off US support for confronting the group, the Biden administration unfortunately emboldened and empowered the Houthis and gave them a free pass. That is most likely why the group ratcheted up its missile attacks on other countries. The Houthis have frequently launched missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia and last week they also targeted the UAE, blowing up three oil tanker trucks in Abu Dhabi, killing three people.

After the Houthis’ designation as a terrorist group was lifted, the group’s forces reportedly launched more than 40 drones and missiles at Saudi Arabia in one month alone. A senior US Defense Department official told NBC News: “We’re certainly aware of a troubling increase in Houthi cross-border attacks from a variety of systems, including cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and (unmanned aerial vehicles).” France, Germany, Italy and the UK also condemned the Houthi offensive and characterized it as a “major escalation of attacks… against Saudi Arabia.”

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The Houthis also launched an explosive-laden drone at a military airbase in the southern Saudi city of Khamis Mushayt and used a drone to attack Najran airport. The group had previously claimed responsibility for the 2019 attacks on two Aramco plants at the heart of the Kingdom’s oil industry — the world’s biggest oil processing facility at Abqaiq near Dammam and the country’s second-largest oilfield at Khurais.

By not redesignating the Houthis as a terrorist organization, the Biden administration is also empowering the Iranian regime, which seeks to increase its influence in Yemen through its proxy. The Houthis have been fortunate to have the Tehran regime as such a powerful ally. Their Iranian backers will not let them run out of ammunition.

The sophisticated drones and missiles that the Houthis use most likely come from Iran, which has recognized the terror group as the official government of Yemen. The Iranian government has long smuggled illicit weapons and technology into Yemen. A UN report stated: “An increasing body of evidence suggests that individuals or entities in Iran supply significant volumes of weapons and components to the Houthis.”

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a key supporter and sponsor of the Houthis and has been stepping up its weapons supply to Yemen. The IRGC has used a route across the Gulf to deliver covert arms shipments to the Houthis.

This should give the Biden administration an insight into the tactics and long-term strategies of Iranian-trained and armed proxies across the Middle East. Their plans are generally built on four pillars: Destabilization, conflict, assassination, and the rejection of any solution that has Sunni or Western origins. An example of the pursuit of these pillars was the assassination of Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2017, two days after he urged a resolution to the conflict, he was killed by the Houthis.

Due to the egregious crimes against humanity committed by the Iranian-backed Houthis, as well as the frequent drone and missile attacks they carry out, it is incumbent on the Biden administration to redesignate the militia as an international terrorist organization.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

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Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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