On February 5th, the Houthi leadership in the mountains of Yemen read welcome news from Washington that they would soon be removed from a list of foreign terrorist organizations. They had just been put on the list by the Trump administration which characteried the Houthi movement as a puppet of Iran, the main supplier of arms to them for their attacks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Middle East Forum Because of their designation as “terrorists,” it made it difficult to deliver humanitarian aid through areas they control, so the US wanted to make them not terrorists. For the Houthi leadership and their Iranian backers, this meant a new round of attacks and that a military offensive would be planned.
The 10 days since the announced removal have seen almost daily Houthi drone attacks on Saudi Arabia and increased fighting in Yemen. It comes as the US has also said although it supports Riyadh’s right to self-defense, it will no longer back an offensive war in Yemen.
This was not a surprise as the Biden team was known to be critical of Saudi Arabia and sympathetic to Yemen. Yemen is divided between the Iranian-backed Houthis and the Saudi-backed government that controls Aden and some other areas.
It appears that the Houthis have been unleashing a major drone offensive ever since the US indicated it will delist the group, according to reports from Saudi Arabia and the region.
On February 7, reports indicated that Riyadh intercepted four Houthi drones. On February 8, US Central Command said it would continue to support Riyadh defending itself. On February 9, more drones were intercepted by Saudi Arabia. On February 10, the Houthis said they targeted Abha Airport in southern Saudi Arabia, near Yemen. On February 11, another interception of a Houthi attack was reported.
On February 12, in the wake of the US finally taking them off the list, more reports of attacks on Abha and King Khalid Air Base in Saudi Arabia were reported. “The attack by an explosive-laden drone was the fourth such incident involving the Iran-backed Houthis in southern Saudi Arabia in as many days,” a local media outlet reported.
Since the Houthis learned they are being taken off the US terrorist list, they appear to have increased their attacks. It is not clear if this is to goad the US or Saudi Arabia into an increased military campaign or is a kind of celebration.