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Iran-backed Houthi attacks more than double after Biden softened US stance this year

Houthis protest against airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition on Sana'a in September 2015. (Henry Ridgwell, VOA/Released)
December 22, 2021

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels have more than doubled their attacks against Saudi Arabia this year after President Joe Biden softened the United States’ stance on the militant group.

According to a report on Tuesday by the Center for Strategic and International Studies – a Washington-based think tank – Houthi rebels attacked the Saudi kingdom an average of 78 times each month for the first nine months of 2021, totaling 702 attacks.

The monthly average was just 38 during the same period in 2020.

Another Iran-backed militant group, Hezbollah, has been providing the Houthis with weapons and training, the report said.

“It’s very cheap for the Houthis and the Iranians to produce and very expensive for the Saudis to defend against,” said Seth Jones, a senior analyst who authored the report, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. “There’s a big advantage to continue to put pressure on the Saudis. It’s not very expensive.”

The Houthi attacks have been executed via ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles, which are frequently used to attack Saudi civilian infrastructure.

“Iran and the Houthis have demonstrated a persistent ability to threaten Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf. With the use of relatively cheap stand-off weapons such as UAVs, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles, Houthi forces can impose political and financial costs on Saudi Arabia,” the report explained, adding that without more effective counter-measures, Iran and the Houthis “will continue to destabilize the region.”

Earlier this year, President Biden announced an end to U.S. participation in offensive military operations in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia, with American support, has battled the Houthi rebels for years in campaigns that have killed thousands of civilians and triggered an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

Biden also halted a controversial sale of precision-guided weapons to Saudi Arabia, which former President Donald Trump sought to execute in defiance of congressional opposition, and named a special envoy for Yemen as a way to more aggressively find a diplomatic solution to that country’s civil war.

President Trump designated the Houthis a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) during his final days in office, a move that was criticized by members of Congress and humanitarian groups who said the label will complicate aid efforts for Yemen.

The Biden administration later revoked the FTO designation as “a recognition of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.”

“We have listened to warnings from the United Nations, humanitarian groups, and bipartisan members of Congress, among others, that the designations could have a devastating impact on Yemenis’ access to basic commodities like food and fuel,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement at the time.

“The revocations are intended to ensure that relevant U.S. policies do not impede assistance to those already suffering what has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.  By focusing on alleviating the humanitarian situation in Yemen, we hope the Yemeni parties can also focus on engaging in dialogue.”