Israel pressures Biden to list Houthi terror group, at UAE’s request

WASHINGTON — Israel pressured the Biden administration to designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terrorist group, at the request of the United Arab Emirates, two officials familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.

The Iran-backed Houthis have been blamed for a series of drone and missile attacks against the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia that have escalated in intensity over the past month.

Amid the upsurge in attacks, Abu Dhabi has stepped up lobbying for terrorist designation and enlisted Israel in the effort.

Jerusalem agreed, telling Biden officials that reimposing the terror designation would limit Iran’s “reckless” influence in the region, an Israeli official said.

“We are not doing this just for the Emiratis. We believe that such a measure is in everyone’s interest,” the official added.

The Foreign Office declined to comment on the case.

Former US President Donald Trump added the Houthis to the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations during his final days in office. His successor, Joe Biden, reversed the decision about a month later as his administration worked unsuccessfully to revive peace talks and end Yemen’s eight-year war that has claimed 130,000 lives.

But following the latest Houthi attacks, Biden told reporters in late January that a new Houthi designation was “under consideration.”

Yemeni pro-government Giants Brigade fighters trained in the United Arab Emirates pass through the town of Ataq, east of Aden port on the Red Sea, en route to the frontline facing pro-Houthi fighters. Iranians, January 28, 2022. (Saleh Al-Obeidi /AFP)

A source familiar with the matter said the National Security Council has been supportive of the idea of ​​renaming the Houthis, while others in the administration remain more hesitant.

Washington is seeking to strike a balance between the Houthi crackdown and the response to the humanitarian emergency that continues to afflict Yemen, where 16 million people are food insecure.

Aid groups say their access to rebel-held areas of Yemen will be restricted if the Houthis are blacklisted.

Proponents of the designation point out that the United States has designated Hezbollah and the Taliban as terrorist groups and has always been able to ensure aid reaches civilians in Lebanon and Afghanistan.

Israel does not itself label the Houthis a terrorist group, but Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told the Walla news site last week that Israel should consider the designation, calling the group a “proxy for Iranian terrorism”. .

In a letter to the chiefs of staff last month, ruling coalition MK Tzvika Hauser said the designation of the Houthis is essential for a country like Israel seeking to wage the global war on terror. Hauser said such a move would cause other countries to follow suit and hamper Iranian efforts to destabilize the region.

This photograph released by the state-run Saudi Press Agency shows debris on the tarmac at Abha Regional Airport after an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in Abha, Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday, June 12 2019. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

UN reports on the Houthis point to their use of child soldiers, accusations of raping and torturing women, laying landmines and threats against Yemen’s tiny Jewish community, which has shrunk to a handful of individuals, one of whom is believed to be imprisoned by the group. The slogan of the Houthi movement reads: “God is great, death to America, death to Israel, curse on the Jews, victory for Islam”.

With Riyadh leading the coalition of fighters backing the still-cornered Yemeni government, Houthi rebels have used drones and missiles to attack Saudi Arabia and oil targets in the Persian Gulf since the civil war began in 2015. Houthi attacks on the UAE have been far rarer though, especially since Abu Dhabi withdrew its forces fighting on behalf of the Saudi coalition in 2020.

One of the Houthi attacks on the United Arab Emirates last month targeted a fuel depot, killing three people and injuring six. US soldiers stationed at Al-Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi launched Patriot interceptor missiles in response – the first time US troops have fired the system in combat since the US invasion of Iraq – United in 2003. The attacks coincided with visits by the presidents of South Korea and Israel to the country.

Some analysts have argued that the strikes are meant as an implicit threat that Israel could also be within reach of the Iran-backed Houthis.

US President Joe Biden, right, meets with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, August 27, 2021. (Evan Vucci/AP)

The spillover of Yemen’s years-long war into the United Arab Emirates puts US troops in the crosshairs of Houthi attacks – and raises the risk of a regional escalation at a crucial time in talks in Vienna to potentially restore the deal Iran’s nuclear with world powers.

All sides in the war have been widely accused of abuses, including airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition that claimed civilian lives. The Biden administration announced early on that the United States would reduce its coalition support role and only supply Saudi Arabia with defensive weapons.

AP contributed to this report

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