Biden's Refusal to Designate Houthis As Terrorists Sparks Blowback From Military Leaders

(Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)
January 10, 2024

The Biden administration’s refusal to redesignate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization is causing tension with U.S. military leaders in the region as they struggle to counter a rise in attacks by the Iran-backed militant group.

Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, leader of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), which is tasked with responding to Houthi attacks on American assets in the Middle East, told lawmakers in a private meeting that it is harder to combat the Iran-backed terror group since the Biden administration stripped its designation as a foreign terrorist organization. That problem became clear during a congressional delegation trip to the region.

"I did ask specifically about the Houthi attacks and their designation," Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa), who led the bipartisan congressional delegation to the region, told the Washington Free Beacon. "When I spoke to the NAVCENT commander he did indicate it would be helpful to have them listed on the foreign terrorist organization list. So I think that has been a little bit of contention."

The United States and its allies are struggling to beat back a wave of attacks by the Houthis that have threatened regional military personnel and commercial shipping vessels. The largest attack yet occurred on Wednesday, when American and British forces shot down 21 drones and missiles fired by the Iran-armed group. The Biden administration’s hesitance to redesignate the Houthis as a terror group indicates the United States is trying to avoid irritating Tehran as its terror proxies, including Hamas, wage war on Israel and foment chaos across the region, according to Ernst.

"That would be my readout of why the administration is tiptoeing around this," the senator said. "I think whether it’s the Houthis or the leadership in Iran, they see weakness emanating from America and they are taking full advantage of it."

Ernst and her delegation of seven other lawmakers met with leaders in Israel, Egypt, Bahrain, and Qatar. At every stop, Iran’s malign activities were raised as a chief concern.

"With all of the leaders we visited, they all have concerns about Iran," she said. "We were asked at every stop around the way about American leadership. They were very pointed about saying that we need American leadership."

The Biden administration delisted the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization shortly after Biden took office, reversing a policy spearheaded by the Trump administration. The reversal was meant to ease tensions with Iran, the terror group’s chief sponsor, and generate goodwill with the hardline regime in Tehran.

Since Hamas launched its war on Israel in October, the Houthis have sought to foment greater regional unrest with a series of missile attacks meant to disrupt commercial shipping lines and draw the United States into a wider war.

Amid these attacks, the Biden administration has been pressuring Israel to end its war effort in the Gaza Strip and refrain from opening up a new front along the northern border with Lebanon, where the Iran-backed Hezbollah group has also increased its terror operations.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently in the region to lobby Israel against expanding its war.

Ernst said that U.S. pressure, whether real or perceived, will not stop the Jewish state from doing all it needs to eradicate Hamas and combat other threats from Iranian proxy groups.

"They made it very clear they’re going to continue going after Hamas," Ernst said. "They have their end goals. And it should be left to Israel to determine what those end goals are. That’s the impression I got from the Israelis."

The congressional delegation also toured Israeli villages ravaged by Hamas terrorists and met with the families of those still being held hostage by the terror group. A portion of the trip was spent meeting with hostage negotiators from several nations and pressing for the release of all Americans captured by Hamas on Oct. 7.

Ernst also said that Israel is in need of various munitions from the United States and that Congress will be working this week to allocate the funds needed to ensure the Jewish state is fully armed.