Houthi Rebels Claim Responsibility For Oil Tanker Attack

Yemen’s Iran-back Houthi rebels claimed responsibility Saturday for an attack Friday on an oil tanker in the Red Sea.

In a statement Saturday, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree said Yemeni naval forces fired missiles at what he called a British oil tanker, the Pollux, adding that the strikes were “accurate and direct.”

The U.S. Central Command assessed Friday that at least three missiles were launched toward the India-bound, Panamanian-flagged M/T Pollux, which was transporting crude oil. The extent of the damage is unclear, but the M/T Pollux is continuing its journey south under its own power.

CENTCOM said the vessel was Denmark-owned and Panamanian-registered.

Two U.S. strikes

Friday evening, CENTCOM successfully conducted two strikes against one mobile anti-ship cruise missile and one mobile unmanned surface vessel in Yemen.

CENTCOM identified the mobile missile and surface vessel in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined they presented an imminent threat to U.S. Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region.

U.S. accuses Iran of aiding Houthis

A spokesperson from the U.S. State Department accused Iran of aiding the Houthis in destabilizing the region.

“Iran has been deeply involved in planning the operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea. This is consistent with Iran’s long-term material support and encouragement of the Houthis’ destabilizing actions in the region,” the spokesperson said Friday.

“Houthi forces have employed various Iranian-origin missiles and uncrewed aerial vehicles against military and civilian targets throughout the region,” the spokesperson said.

U.S. reinstates sanctions on Houthis

The United States reinstated sanctions on the Houthi rebels Friday, following their continued attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, endangering maritime security.

The State Department spokesperson noted that on January 17, Washington announced its intention to relist the Houthis as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, or SDGT, after 30 days, giving the Iran-backed rebels “the opportunity to scale down their attacks” and “to minimize de-risking across the industry.”

Houthi leaders have declared that the group will persist in its attacks in solidarity with the Palestinians as long as Israel continues what the group termed as crimes against them.

The Houthis were first designated as a terror group three years ago and subsequently delisted due to humanitarian concerns. The relisting follows repeated demands from the U.S. and other countries for the Houthis to stop firing on commercial shipping.

Those demands have been ignored, and attacks have continued, despite a series of airstrikes by the U.S. and Britain aimed at taking out radar systems and launch sites used in the attacks.

U.S. officials said they have made concerted efforts to mitigate the impact of this designation on the Yemeni people. Washington has actively engaged the shipping industry, financial institutions, banks and humanitarian aid organizations to ensure comprehensive understanding of the broad exemptions associated with this designation.

In the waning hours of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration in January 2021, the Houthis were designated as both an SDGT and a foreign terrorist organization, or FTO.

In February 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delisted the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization and as specially designated global terrorists. This action was taken as the Biden administration aimed to facilitate a diplomatic resolution to the long-running civil war between the internationally recognized government of Yemen, based in the southern port city of Aden, and the Houthis, whose capital is Sanaa.

Additionally, the delisting aimed to make it easier to deliver food and humanitarian aid to the people of Yemen.

The two designations carry distinct penalties. Being named as a specially designated global terrorist empowers the U.S. Treasury Department to disrupt terrorists’ access to funds within the United States and across the international financial system.

On the other hand, designation as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department prohibits anyone from providing the group with “material support,” including fighting for the group, or providing financial assistance or training.

Members of foreign terrorist organizations who are not U.S. citizens are typically banned from entering the United States, except where there is a rare and high-level decision otherwise. The Houthis have not been re-listed as an FTO at this time.

U.S. defense officials said the Houthis have launched dozens of attacks on commercial vessels and naval vessels since mid-November, affecting citizens, cargo and vessels from more than 50 countries.

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