on Wednesday 3 April, 2024

Israel finally designates Yemen's Houthis as terror organization

Newly recruited fighters who joined a Houthi military force intended to be sent to fight in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, march during a parade in Sanaa, Yemen December 2, 2023. (credit: REUTERS/KHALED ABDULLAH)

Almost six months after the first Houthi missile attack aimed at Israel and six months after the first of many recurring Houthi attacks targeting international shipping routes in the Red Sea, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Tuesday signed a decree designating the Ansar Allah Movement, also known as the Houthi movement, as a formally recognized terrorist organization.

The unheeded call

The move comes two years after the previous attempt to designate the organization as a terrorist group. In January 2022, former MK and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Zvi Hauser called on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to designate the Houthis as terrorist organizations.

He cited Iran’s supplying of the Houthis with long-range cruise missiles and maritime capabilities, featuring intelligence-gathering and potential hostilities against naval targets.

By that point, the Biden administration had canceled the Trump administration’s designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organization, Hauser told The Jerusalem Post, saying he wanted Israel to spearhead the fight against terrorism in the Middle East on the backdrop of the Houthi attacks against the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Hauser praised Israel’s decision and said he hoped the Israeli security apparatuses would carry out an internal investigation to understand how to better prepare for any upcoming threats in the future.

“At the basis of my call two years ago was a general, birds-eye stance vis-à-vis the regional issues, as such a step also constitutes an important alignment with the Saudis and the Emiratis against the Iranian axis,” he said.

Houthis: A history of repression and war

According to Inbal Nissim Louvton, an expert on modern Yemen, lecturer at the Open University, and a research fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking, the Houthis are a religious revival movement of Shi’ite-Zaydi Islam. This denomination differs in many aspects from the one in Iran and Lebanon.

She said the movement began operating in the 1990s and is named after the members of the al-Houthi family. She added, “The common and accepted use of this name, and not their official name, Ansar Allah, can testify to the dominance of the members of the Houthi family in the foundation of the movement and its leadership and emphasize the importance of the local context within Yemen.”

“The Houthis acted against the central government in Yemen and the influences of Sunni-Wahhabi Islam in their living areas, seeking to restore the vitality of Zaydi Islam that had been suppressed for decades in favor of the Yemeni state and its institutions,” Nissim Louvton said.

“On top of the religious marginalization felt by the Houthis, feelings of deprivation on the economic and social basis were added, stemming from the peripheral location of their original base, the mountainous northern province of Saada,” she said.

“As the Houthis grew disappointed from the limited outcomes of political and social struggle, radicalization processes took place in the early 2000s, which contributed to the worsening of the struggle and led to violent clashes with the central Yemeni powers.”