November 22, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. Weighs Re-Designating Yemen’s Houthis as Terrorist Group

November 22, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. Weighs Re-Designating Yemen’s Houthis as Terrorist Group

Latest Developments

The Biden administration is considering re-designating the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen as a terrorist organization, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on November 21. The statement comes after the rebel group hijacked a cargo ship in the Red Sea on November 19. “In light of the recent targeting of civilians by the Houthis, and now the piracy of a ship in international waters, we have begun a review of potential terrorist designations, and we’ll be considering other options together with our allies and partners,” said Kirby.

The Trump administration designated the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) in January 2021. The following month, just after taking office, the Biden administration revoked the designation.

Expert Analysis

“The Houthis talk and act like a terrorist organization because that’s what they are. It’s time for U.S. policy to reflect that fact once again.” — Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

“A redesignation of the Iran-supported Houthi organization Ansar Allah is long overdue. For far too long, they have threatened and attacked international shipping and U.S. allies and partners in the region. To more effectively combat their sources of funding — including the regime in Iran — the United States should designate Ansar Allah as a specially designated global terrorist organization and a foreign terrorist organization.” — Matt Zweig, Senior Director of Policy for FDD Action

Houthis Attack U.S. and Israeli Targets

Following the October 7 attack on southern Israel by Iran-backed Hamas terrorists, the Houthis declared on October 10 that they were ready to enter the conflict against the Jewish state. Since then, the Houthis have targeted civilian areas in Israel multiple times — most often the southern port city of Eilat — using cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and suicide drones.

On October 19, a U.S. Navy destroyer shot down a salvo of cruise missiles and drones launched from Yemen toward Israel by the Houthis. On or around the same day, Saudi Arabia reportedly shot down another cruise missile headed toward Israel. Israel used its Arrow air defense system on October 31 to intercept a ballistic missile launched by the Houthis. On November 2, Israel used advanced F-35I Adir fighter jets to down a cruise missile launched by the group.

On November 8, the Houthis shot down an American MQ-9 Reaper surveillance drone in international waters off the coast of Yemen, claiming that the drone was “carrying out hostile missions in support of the Israeli enemy.” The next day, the group said it launched a “batch of ballistic missiles” at southern Israel, leading to the first operational interception by Israel’s Arrow 3 missile defense system over the Red Sea.

Piracy Against International Shipping

On November 14, the Houthis threatened to attack Israeli ships in the Red Sea. The next day, a U.S. naval warship intercepted a drone over that body of water. The threats led the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) to issue a warning to vessels traveling through the Bab al Mandeb Strait and the Red Sea to stay as far away from Yemeni waters as possible. Established in 2019, the IMSC’s mission is to “provide reassurance to merchant shipping in the Middle East region through the contribution of a multinational force of ships, personnel and advanced capabilities,” according to its website. On November 19, the Houthis hijacked a Bahamas-flagged cargo ship partially owned by an Israeli in the Red Sea, taking 25 crew members hostage.

International Maritime Security Construct issues warning as Houthis threaten commercial shipping,” by Bradley Bowman and Bill Roggio

How arming Saudi Arabia helped Israel and the United States,” by Bradley Bowman and Ryan Brobst

Iranian-Backed Houthis Hijack Ship in Red Sea,” FDD Flash Brief

Arrow 3 Intercepts Houthi Missile over Red Sea,” FDD Flash Brief


Arab Politics Gulf States Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Sanctions and Illicit Finance