Houthis added to Yemen's terrorist list

The move, by Yemen's National Defence Council, comes shortly after Houthi drone attacks on oil fields in the ports of al-Dabba and al-Nashima in Hadramut and Shabwa

PHOTO/REUTERS  -   Houthi militants near the city of Hodeidah, Yemen

The designation of the Houthi militias as a terrorist group had, until a few days ago, remained one of the Yemeni government's strongest levers to force the rebels to actively participate in the search for a solution to the conflict. "To convince the Houthis to accept peace, the international community must exert significant pressure, and the threat of [terrorist] designation will be a powerful instrument of pressure," said Najeeb Ghallab, undersecretary of Yemen's Ministry of Information. 

This week, however, the threat was transformed from a mere warning into a firm decision. On Saturday, Yemen's National Defence Council (a government body headed by President Rashad Al-Alimi to coordinate Yemen's defence and security strategy) decided - in an emergency meeting - to add the Houthi militias to Yemen's list of terrorist groups for the first time since the conflict began eight years ago. 

REUTERS/WAEL AL-QUBATI - The head of Yemen's new Presidential Council, Rashad al-Alimi in Aden (centre), Yemen, April 19, 2022

As reported by the Yemeni news agency Saba, the decision was taken "in accordance with the Law on Crimes and Sanctions, the Arab Convention on Combating Terrorism, and international and regional conventions and treaties ratified by the Republic of Yemen". In addition, the Defence Council addressed the entire international community to call for support "in the face of attacks on civilian targets and economic facilities, [...] designating these militias as an international terrorist group, and taking consequent measures". 

On Monday, the Yemeni government of Maeen Abdul-Malik Saeed began the executive measures and procedures necessary to implement the decision - something the Defence Council authorities had already requested - while the latter warned all entities and individuals in the country that any cooperation with the militias would lead to strict punishment. 

AFP/MOHAMMED HUWAIS - Houthi rebel fighter

The Defence Council meeting was held on Saturday 23 October in response to the Houthi drone attacks on the oil export terminal in the Arabian Sea province of Hadramut on 21 October. The first military operation by the rebel group's forces since the end of the ceasefire on 2 October, six months after the two sides agreed to an armistice under UN auspices. 

The attack was aimed at "preventing an oil tanker from attempting to loot crude oil through the port of al-Dabba in Hadramut province," Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said in a televised address. Warnings that follow the line of recent weeks in which the Houthi militias have threatened the Yemeni government with attacking oil installations and ships to "prevent international looting", and to - according to experts - try to force the executive to pay the salaries of public and military officials living in the regions under Houthi control. 

PHOTO/AFP - Yemen's oil and energy infrastructure has been under threat since the breakdown of the armistice between Yemen and the Houthis in early October
The consequences of this decision 

The addition of the Houthis to the list of terrorist groups seems to have been greeted with widespread satisfaction and hope among the Yemeni population, as the move brings important changes to the situation in the country. "This is the first pillar on the road to resolving the military conflict, as it has come to put an end to the need for negotiation and dialogue with the Houthis to achieve peace," Joint Forces spokesman Waddah Al-Dubaish told Al-Ain News, stressing that the Houthis were turning the potential solution to the conflict into a strategic military weapon against the internationally recognised Yemeni government. 

"Peace has been just a military tactic [by the Houthis] to mobilise, organise ranks and carry out arms smuggling with Iran," Al-Dubaish added. 

AFP/ AHMAD AL-BASHA - A protester holds a banner reading "end Taiz siege" demanding an end to a years-long blockade of the area imposed by Yemen's Houthi rebels on Yemen's third largest city

Now, a military solution seems a more plausible option than ever, as the Yemeni government will no longer need to make a deal with Houthi actors, respect the 2018 Stockholm Agreement - which established a ceasefire in Hodeidah, a prisoner exchange between the two sides, and a statement of understanding to create a joint committee to address the situation in the city of Taiz - or negotiate new truces with the rebel militias under UN auspices. 

"The entry into force of such a measure will result in [...] the unilateral withdrawal of all agreements concluded with the Houthis... It will mean declaring war," warned scholar Muftah al-Zawba. Although Prime Minister Abdul-Malik has already made efforts to calm the situation by assuring that both the government and the Presidential Leadership Council are committed to protecting the commercial and industrial sector in all areas controlled by the Houthi militias, as well as in territories under the control of the internationally recognised Yemeni executive. 

Yemeni security forces have, according to Al-Dubaish, a "long and extensive list of top Houthi leaders involved in war crimes, where all crimes have been monitored and will not be subject to the statute of limitations". "We are confident that our apparatus has the capacity to go after the Houthi leadership, although this will be linked to military pressure as a factor in eroding the militias from within.