Congress is moving to reapply sanctions on the Houthi rebels in Yemen following the Iranian-backed terror group’s strike this week on Abu Dhabi that drew widespread condemnation from the Biden administration and U.S. lawmakers.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and a coalition of Republican foreign policy leaders are set to introduce on Friday new legislation that would re-designate the Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization, according to a copy of the new sanctions measure obtained exclusively by the Washington Free Beacon. Former president Donald Trump listed the group on the U.S. terror list early last year, but that designation was reversed during the Biden administration’s first week in office—a decision critics viewed as an effort by the new administration to generate goodwill with Iran prior to the resumption of nuclear talks.
Following Monday’s missile strike on Abu Dhabi’s international airport, the Houthi rebels and their Iranian backers are facing a new wave of opposition on Capitol Hill. Cruz’s bill, a version of which failed to pass Congress in November, would direct President Joe Biden to designate the Houthis and all their affiliates as a terror organization within 30 days of the bill’s passage. With the Senate evenly split along party lines, and the Houthis’ latest attack generating a wave of concern, the legislation could attract Democrats. Biden also said the designation was under consideration during a Wednesday press conference.
Cruz’s bill is already backed by some of the Senate’s top foreign policy hawks, including Sens. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), Bill Hagerty (R., Tenn.), and Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.), among several others, and is expected to garner more supporters in the coming days.
"President Biden made it an immediate week-one priority to unwind pressure on Iran and its proxies, including by lifting terrorism sanctions on the Houthis," a spokesman for Cruz told the Free Beacon. "This appeasement predictably caused Iran to escalate its aggression across the region, and in Yemen the Houthis launched a broad offensive within hours of the Biden administration’s announcement they would lift those sanctions. Sen. Cruz criticized the decision at the time and has consistently sought to reimpose those sanctions, and believes that if the Biden administration is unwilling to do so then Congress should mandate that they do."
State Department spokesman Ned Price described this week’s strike as a terrorist attack and promised to hold the Houthis accountable, though Price did not outline specific repercussions. Leaders in the United Arab Emirates responded to the attack, which killed and wounded multiple civilians, by pressing the Biden administration to designate the Houthis as a terrorist group.
Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this week that they are considering restoring the Houthis' terror designation in light of the attack, a decision that is certain to rankle Iran as U.S. officials work toward inking a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear accord. Biden during his Wednesday press confab also blamed the Yemeni government for perpetuating the ongoing war with the Houthis.
Since the Biden administration removed the Houthis from the U.S. terror list last year, the organization has stepped up its attacks on the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other American allies in the region. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia objected to the Biden administration’s removal of the Houthis and have been pressuring U.S. officials to restore the designation.
Earlier in the month, the Houthis took a UAE-flagged ship hostage and are still holding the vessel. Late last year, the Houthis stormed the U.S. embassy facility in Yemen’s capital and stole "large quantities of equipment and materials." The Houthis also kidnapped several local Yemeni staffers who worked on the embassy grounds. This followed the kidnapping of several other Yemeni citizens who worked in the country for the U.S. government.
The missiles and drones used in this week’s attack are reported to be more advanced than those used in previous attacks, indicating that Iran not only continues to arm the group but is ordering more lethal strikes.