Thanks to the Biden administration's alarmingly misguided officials and their counterproductive policies of appeasement towards Iran and its proxies, the Iranian regime's militia and terrorist group in Yemen, the Houthis, has ratcheted up attacks on ships in the Red Sea, and escalated the launching of missiles and attack drones at Israel. Now, the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah ("Partisans of Allah"), are threatening to attack any ship headed to Israel, regardless of its nationality or ownership. Why not just replace their flags with American ones?
The current problem with the Houthis began almost three years ago, when the Biden administration, after less than a month in office, reversed yet another policy of the Trump administration. On February 12, 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken officially revoked the designation of the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
In doing so, the Biden administration airily delisted a group, which, according to a Yemeni government intelligence report, "works closely" with Al Qaeda and ISIS, and in addition, regularly commits crimes against humanity. It recruits, injures and kills children. According to Human Rights Watch's World Report 2020:
"Since September 2014, all parties to the conflict have used child soldiers under 18, including some under the age of 15, according to a 2019 UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen report in 2019. According to the secretary general, out of 3,034 children recruited throughout the war in Yemen, 1,940—64 percent—were recruited by the Houthis."
"Former detainees described Houthi officers beating them with iron rods and rifles and being hung from walls with their arms shackled behind them.... The association [Mothers of Abductees Association] reported that there are 3,478 disappearance cases, at least 128 of those kidnapped have been killed."
The Houthis have been fortunate to have, as a powerful patron and sponsor, Iran. Their backers in Tehran will not let them run out of ammunition and the Biden administration will not let the Iranian regime run out of funds. Iran smuggles illicit weapons and military technology into Yemen. According to a report by Reuters, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) -- designated by the US State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization -- is a key supporter and sponsor of the Houthis, and has been stepping up its weapons supply to them in Yemen by way of Oman. The weapons include anti-tank guided missiles, sniper rifles, cruise missiles and attack drones.
Iran's leaders have admitted that they are helping the Houthis. The deputy commander of the IRGC's Quds Force Esmail Ghani stated in 2015, "Those defending Yemen have been trained under the flag of the Islamic Republic." In 2019, the Houthis, fired a missile at an Abu Dhabi nuclear facility -- an act most likely meant to create mass civilian casualties. Thankfully, the missile fell short.
More broadly, this drive by Iran gives an insight into the tactics and long-term strategies of Iranian-trained and -armed proxies across the Middle East. Their plans are built on several pillars: destabilization, conflict, assassination, anti-Americanism, the annihilation of Israel and Jews, and the rejection of any solution that has Sunni or Western origins. Iran's pursuit of these pillars, for instance, includes the assassination of Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2017, two days after Saleh urged a resolution to the seemingly intractable conflict in Yemen, and when the international community sighed with relief that the four-year-old civil war was going to be resolved much sooner than expected, the Houthi militia murdered him.
Iran has been employing every political and military tactic possible -- including racing toward nuclear weapons capability -- to complete its objectives of annihilating Israel, driving the United States out of the Middle East, and establishing an Islamist caliphate. These acts not surprisingly include funding and arming Yemen's Houthis.
Iranian proxy militias have targeted US assets in Syria and Iraq at least 90 times since October 17. Since Biden has been in office, Iranian-backed proxy forces have targeted American forces in Iraq and Syria more than 150 times.
The Biden administration immediately needs to re-designate the Iran-backed Houthi group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, both for their military aggression against Israel and against ships in international waters, and for their crimes against humanity.
Does anyone seriously think that if Iran finally acquires a nuclear bomb, they will not use it -- or at least threaten to?
To deter further escalation, the US needs seriously to target the real source of this mayhem -- the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its IRGC. Perhaps the US might try incapacitating the Iranian ports that are used for oil exports, or take out a few IRGC facilities -- or maybe just send every IRGC officer a picture of his home?
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US Foreign Policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu