The Biden administration on Wednesday announced that it was re-designating Yemen’s Houthis as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists,” a move that could complicate aid deliveries in Yemen and make peace between the Saudis and Houthis more difficult.
President Biden lifted the SDGT designation on the Houthis in February 2021 as well as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” designation, which was implemented by the Trump administration. Both designations come with economic sanctions, but the FTO is considered more harsh and would essentially criminalize delivering aid to Houthi-controlled Yemen, where 70-80% of Yemenis live.
However, sanctions under the SDGT designation could also hamper aid deliveries. The State Department said the administration would issue exemptions for “certain transactions related to the provision of food, medicine, and fuel, as well as personal remittances, telecommunications and mail, and port and airport operations.”
But even with exemptions, history has shown that sanctions scare away international companies and banks from doing business with the targeted nations or entities and cause shortages of medicine, food, and other basic goods.
US and British airstrikes in Yemen have already forced some aid groups to suspend services. From 2015-2022, the US supported a brutal Saudi/UAE war against the Houthis that included airstrikes targeting Yemen’s food supply and a blockade. During that time, at least 377,000 people were killed in the war, including 60% who died of starvation and disease caused by the siege.
The people of Yemen have had some relief since the Saudis and Houthis reached a ceasefire in April 2022. But that progress might be reversed now that the US is bombing Yemen in response to Houthi attacks on Israel-linked commercial shipping in protest of the onslaught in Gaza. The SDGT designation could also impede a Yemen peace deal.
According to The Guardian, the Saudis and Houthis have reached a deal that satisfies all parties. The first phase involves depositing money into accounts for the payment of civil salaries for workers in Houthi-controlled areas and fully opening airports and sea ports that have been under blockade. The SDGT designation or other types of sanctions could impede the implementation of the first phase.
The US has now launched three rounds of strikes in Yemen, which has only escalated the situation as the Houthis aren’t backing down. The Houthis, officially known as Ansar Allah, have now expanded their attacks to target American and British commercial shipping. The terrorist designation will also do nothing to stop Houthi attacks. Houthis spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam told Al Jazeera that Ansar Allah would “not back down in its position in support of the Palestinian people.”