The US sanctioned two leaders of Yemen’s Houthi movement on Tuesday, accusing the group of prolonging the war in Yemen that the Biden administration said it wants to end.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a statement on the sanctions where he condemned the Houthis for the ongoing fighting in Yemen’s Maarib province and recent attacks inside Saudi Arabia. In February, the Houthis offered to stop launching drone and missiles attacks inside Saudi Arabia in exchange for a halt to Riyadh’s bombing campaign, but Saudi bombs continue to pound Yemen.
Blinken also accused Iran of stoking the conflict in Yemen. “Iran’s involvement in Yemen fans the flames of the conflict, threatening greater escalation, miscalculation, and regional instability,” he said. Blinken said the Houthis use “Iranian weapons” to “conduct attacks threatening civilian targets and infrastructure in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.”
While it’s true that Iran supports the Houthis politically, how much military support, if any, Tehran provides the group is unknown. Despite constant claims from the US that Iran is arming the Houthis, evidence is almost never presented to substantiate the claim. But what is known is the full-throated military support that the US has given the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, a coalition that regularly targets civilian infrastructure.
The vicious US-Saudi bombing campaign, coupled with a blockade, has killed hundreds of thousands of Yemenis, and millions are on the brink of famine. Until President Biden announced a change in policy last month, the US stood by while the coalition bombed hospitals, markets, farms, fishing boats, houses, and schools.
As deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration, Blinken played a crucial role in Washington’s early support for the war in Yemen. In April 2015, Blinken announced that the US was expediting arms sales and bolstering intelligence sharing with the Saudi-led coalition.
While President Biden announced that he was ending all support for Saudi Arabia’s “offensive” operations in Yemen, he left wiggle room to support Riyadh militarily if it can be framed as defensive. And questions remain about US support for other aspects of the war, like the blockade.