The White House had rescinded the designation of a rebel group in 2021 to help deliver aid to war-torn Yemen.
The White House said it is considering reclassifying Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a “terrorist” group after claiming responsibility for the seizure of a commercial ship in the Red Sea.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Tuesday condemned the seizure as “piracy of a vessel in international waters” and accused the Houthis of “recently targeting civilians.” The Red Sea is home to one of the world’s most vital trade routes, via the Strait of Hormuz.
US President Joe Biden’s administration officially delisted the Houthis as a “foreign terrorist organization” and “specially designated global terrorist” in 2021, reversing a decision by former President Donald Trump. The United Nations and humanitarian groups criticized the designations, saying their restrictions made it more difficult to deliver aid to war-torn Yemen.
The Houthis – an Iran-backed group that controls large swathes of northern Yemen and the capital Sanaa – have carried out attacks on Israel in recent weeks, launching missiles and drones and threatening to seize Israeli ships in the Red Sea.
Houthi forces attacked a ship named Galaxy Leader on Sunday. Houthi General Ali Al-Moshki later said on television: “Israeli ships are legitimate targets for us, anywhere. »
The ship is operated by a Japanese company and has ties to Israeli businessman Abraham “Rami” Ungar.
The ship’s crew, made up of 25 workers from many countries, continues to be in Houthi hands. Kirby called for their immediate and unconditional release and accused Iran of being complicit in such attacks.
The raid, which analysts say reflects tactics used by Iran, has raised concerns that the Houthis could step up their attacks in the Red Sea.
The group considers itself part of the “axis of resistance,” a network of armed groups across the region backed by Iran and hostile to Israel and the United States.
The Biden administration’s rescinding of the Houthis’ “terrorist” designation was made to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen, where the group is in conflict with the government and a Saudi-backed coalition since 2015.
The Biden administration has considered redesignating the Houthis as a “terrorist” group at least once since then, after drone and missile attacks on the United Arab Emirates claimed by the group.