The United States on Wednesday announced sanctions against what it said were members of an international financing network for Yemen’s Houthi rebels after the Iran-backed group recently escalated cross-border drone and missile attacks on its oil-rich Gulf neighbors.
The penalties from the Treasury Department appeared to fall short of the tougher measures that the Saudis and Emiratis, key strategic partners of the US, had sought from the Biden administration.
The sanctions are aimed at a source of the rebel group’s financial support, targeting shipping companies and other businesses that the US says smuggle petroleum and other commodities around the Middle East, Asia and Africa to fund the Houthis.
“Led by the US-designated Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and Houthi financier Sa’id al-Jamal, this network has transferred tens of millions of dollars to Yemen via a complex international network of intermediaries in support of the Houthis’ attacks,” a Treasury statement said.
The Houthis seized control of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and much of the rest of the north of the Arabian Peninsula nation in 2014. A Saudi-led military coalition entered the war the next year in a so-far unsuccessful fight against the rebels.
The Houthis have resisted Biden administration attempts to get them into peace talks and have escalated sporadic air attacks into Saudi Arabia and the UAE instead. US forces in the UAE have fired back with Patriot missile batteries to help repel air attacks.
US President Joe Biden said last month that the United States was considering redesignating the Houthis and Houthi leaders as terrorists, a step that typically carries harsh US government penalties for those doing business with them.
The Trump administration imposed that designation in its last days. The Biden administration lifted it as one of its first acts as aid groups said the penalties would scare away commercial food suppliers and humanitarian efforts in an already chronically hungry country. An estimated 80% of Yemen’s people live in territory under Houthi control.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and some Americans argue that reinstating the terrorist designation could deter the Houthis.
Humanitarian agencies and some Democrats in Congress say the opposite. They contend that the financial measures that come with such a designation would likely have little impact on the already isolated Houthis but have devastating impacts on ordinary Yemenis already struggling to buy food and fuel.