U.S. and UK Coordinate Sanctions Against Houthi Leadership

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The United States and the United Kingdom for the first time since the attacks began in the Red Sea in November 2023 imposed coordinated sanctions against the leadership of the Houthi. The move comes as frustration mounts over the inability to stop the attacks with the two countries saying today’s coordinated program was further designed to disrupt the ability of the rebel group to carry out attacks on international shipping.

The efforts were targeted at what the U.S. and UK called “four key Houthi figures involved in the attacks.” Announcing the sanctions they said the individuals, which include the Houthi’s designated Commander of Naval Forces and Defense Minister, are involved in coordinating the recent attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. U.S. officials also cited the individuals’ involvement in holding civilian crews hostage and specifically cited the November incident in which Houthi forces boarded and hijacked the merchant vessel Galaxy Leader while it was underway in the Red Sea.

“Today’s joint action with the United Kingdom demonstrates our collective action to leverage all authorities to stop these attacks,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson. He notes that it followed the January 17 announcement by the U.S. State Department which will re-designate the Houthis as a terrorist organization.

The U.S. said today’s action in advance of the terrorist designation becoming effective on February 16 “serves to further promote accountability for the group’s recent terrorist acts.” The U.S. effort freezes any assets linked to the individuals in the U.S. and prohibits business dealings with the individuals. The U.S. also previously enacted sanctions against tankers and entities involved in the Iranian oil trade that they said were funding the Houthi activities.

The UK also imposed an asset freeze as well as an arms embargo and travel bans. They also reiterated that this is in addition to pre-existing sanctions against 11 Houthi individuals and two entities and UN sanctions imposed in February 2021.

The four individuals named in the sanctions were identified by the U.S. as Mohamed al-Atifi, the so-called Houthi “Minister of Defense;” Muhammad Fadl Abd al-Nabi, the so-called “Commander” of the Houthis’ maritime forces; Muhammad Ali al-Qadiri, the so-called Houthi “Coastal Defense Forces Chief” and “Director of the Houthi Naval College;” and Muhammad Ahmad al-Talibi, the so-called “Director of Procurement.”

The latest move comes as the U.S.-led collation continues to struggle to ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. More carriers have announced they are diverting including oil and gas shipments with QatarEnergy warning now of potential disruptions.

“We can degrade their ability to attack international shipping,” said UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron today. “We are determined to protect freedom of navigation. We will back our words with actions.”

The U.S. and UK have conducted two rounds of coordinated strikes on Houthi positions in addition to multiple attacks by the U.S. The U.S. Central Command has reported taking out missile sites that were prepared to launch as well as radar. The Houthi spokesman continues to vow retaliation for each strike with the group having said it would turn the Red Sea into a “graveyard.”

U.S. officials report that more than two dozen shipping companies are diverting due to the security threat threatening global supply chains. The UK also emphasized that the Houthis are “imperiling the delivery of vital aid from reaching Yemen, which is reliant on food imports.”

The official count on the number of incidents varies between the different reporting organizations. The UK Maritime Trade Organizations reported 19 incidents so far in 2024 after issuing 24 incident alerts in 2023. The EUNAVFOR operation responsible for the area, ATALANTA, tallies 43 vessels involved in incidents since November.

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