The United States has blacklisted two leaders of the Houthi movement in Yemen, on charges that they procured procuring weapons from Iran and organized attacks.
The sanctions contradict the State Department removal of the Foreign Terrorist designation on the group, a decision ordered by former President Donald Trump on his last full day in office, over apparent concern the status could exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in war-torn Yemen.
The development marks the first time that the administration of President Joe Biden has taken punitive action against the Iran-linked group – in a clear signal that Washington’s tolerance of the Houthi movement is limited and intends to maintain pressure on leaders of the armed movement.
“The United States remains committed to promoting accountability of Houthi leadership for their actions, which have contributed to the extraordinary suffering of the Yemeni people,” Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control Andrea Gacki said in a Treasury Department statement.
The two men slapped with sanctions have been identified as Houthi Naval Forces Chief of Staff Mansur Al-Sa’adi, and Ahmad Ali Ahsan al-Hamzi, who commands the Houthi-aligned Yemeni Air Force and Air Defense Forces.
Both suspects of orchestrating attacks to “advance the Iranian regime’s destabilizing agenda” that negatively impacted Yemeni civilians, neighboring countries and commercial vessels in international waters. Al-Sa’adi has received extensive training in Iran and helped smuggle weapons into Yemen, while al-Hamzi acquired Iranian-made weapons for use in the civil war, including in drone strikes, said the Treasury.
“The United States condemns the destruction of civilian sites by the Houthi militants designated today. These individuals command forces that are worsening the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” Gacki said.
The 6-year war in Yemen is widely viewed as a proxy conflict between regional arch-foes Saudi Arabia and Iran, that has plummeted the impoverished nation into what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
The new sanctions follow the Biden administration’s withdrawal of support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, declaring that the devastating conflict “has to end.”
The Treasury also charged the Islamic Republic with intensifying the war by providing direct financial and material assistance to the Houthis – including missiles, explosives, small arms and drones for attacks against the internationally-recognized Yemeni government.
The US sanctions were imposed under an executive order aimed at freezing assets of individuals who threaten the peace, security or stability of Yemen; and bars Americans from dealing with those so designated.