Biden Administration Asks World to ‘Call Out Iran’ in Hopes of Stopping Houthi Terrorism

Yemenis participate in a mass demonstration staged in solidarity with the Palestinian peop
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The American representative at the United Nations Security Council on Monday, Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood, urged the body to “call out Iran” in an attempt to curb the rampant terrorist activity by Yemen’s Houthi movement in the Red Sea.

Wood said that evidence suggested the “scale and diversity” of weapons the Houthis are currently receiving, largely backed by Iran, was “unprecedented” and illegal, demanding some Security Council action. Wood refrained from demanding specific sanctions, urging only “collective action” targeting the Houthis and, potentially, Iran.

The Security Council met on Monday to discuss the decade-long civil war in Yemen and its destabilizing effect on the Middle East generally. The Houthis, formally known as “Ansarallah,” are a Shiite jihadist terror group that has controlled the nation’s capital, Sana’a, since 2014, ousting the legitimate government and forcing its leaders into the southern city of Aden. The Houthis have close ties to Iran, the world’s most ambitious state sponsor of terrorism, and rely heavily on Iranian support to maintain control over much of the country.

While long threatening Yemen’s neighbors – particularly Saudi Arabia, which the Houthis have repeatedly bombed – Houthi terrorists have become a global problem following their declaration of war against Israel in October. That war has primarily taken the shape of a campaign against commercial ships in the Red Sea. Houthi leaders claim they are only targeting ships traveling to or from Israeli ports in an attempt to weaken Jerusalem and aid fellow Iran-backed jihadist group Hamas, but in reality have attacked ships with no clear relationship to Israel or its allies. In some instances, Houthi attacks have impacted ships with ties to countries that Ansarallah insists it seeks positive relations with, including RussiaChina, and top benefactor Iran.

The Houthi campaigns in the Red Sea have significantly hurt international trade. One of the world’s largest shipping companies, A.P. Moller-Maersk of Denmark, announced in early May that it would stop activities in the Red Sea entirely for the “foreseeable future” in response to terrorism in the body of water.

The Security Council meeting on Monday addressed Houthi terrorism and human rights abuses in Yemen.

“The sad reality today is that Houthi attacks against commercial and naval vessels in the Red Sea have made continued progress towards a sustainable peace elusive, and the humanitarian situation has worsened for the Yemeni people,” Wood, the American envoy, told the Council.

“If the Council wants a return to a more hopeful outlook for Yemen, we must take collective action – plain and simple,” he suggested. “We must collectively call Iran out for its destabilizing role and insist that it cannot hide behind the Houthis.”

“We reiterate our call for Iran to cease its unlawful weapons transfers and enablement of the Houthis’ illegal and reckless attacks,” Wood continued.

Wood noted that experts and state actors have compiled “extensive evidence of Iran’s provision of advanced weapons, including ballistic and cruise missiles, to the Houthis, in violation of UN sanctions,” and the Council had a responsibility to advance international law.

He ultimately called only for “continued discussions” to strengthen inspections of ships bringing weapons to the Houthis, rather than direct action against the terrorists.

The administration of President Joe Biden has struggled to enact successful policies to deter Houthi terrorism. The group’s ability to fund and arm itself increased dramatically in the early days of the Biden administration as a result of the president’s decision to remove the Houthis from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs). The designation imposes onerous sanctions on terrorist organizations that have not returned despite the ongoing Red Sea campaign.

In January, following a string of terrorist activity in the Red Sea by Ansarallah, Biden’s administration announced that the Houthis would be branded “Specially Designated Global Terrorists” (SDGT), a lesser designation imposed through the U.S. Treasury, not the State Department, that critics lamented would do little to stop Iran and others from funding the group. Biden himself had declared any terrorist designation on the Houthis “irrelevant” shortly before the imposition of the SDGT label.

Beyond designations, the Biden administration also established “Operation Prosperity Guardian,” a coalition allegedly uniting over ten countries to offer security to commercial ships in the Red Sea. The operation was plagued with uncertainty from the start: major countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Israel, declined to join, while some of the countries that did offered no naval assets or clear material support. It is not clear at press time what actions ships tied to Operation Prosperity Guardian have taken, as the Pentagon has insisted that American and British airstrikes on Houthi assets in Yemen are unrelated to that initiative.

As of May 7, Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh claimed “Operation Prosperity Guardian” was “something that continues to work every single day in a coalition to ensure the freedom of navigation through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.” She did not identify any specific actions taken related to the operation.

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