Aug 18, 2022
Share this article

The US State Department announced on Tuesday that Houthi rebels seized the US Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen. The US moved the embassy operations to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2015 due to the devastating civil war in Yemen. At least 25 locally employed Yemeni staff of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Agency for International Development were detained by the Houthis

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday that the State Department has been “unceasing in our behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts to secure” the release of detained local Yemeni employees in Sana’a.

“We are committed to ensuring the safety of those who serve the U.S. Government overseas, and that is why we are so actively engaged on this matter, including through our international partners,” Price said. “We’ve seen some progress and we’re continuing to work this critical issue. The majority of those who have been detained are no longer in custody,” Price told reporters. The State Department did not say how many of their employees remain as hostages to the Houthis.

The Houthi rebelscaptured large sections of Yemen from the government in 2014. The US backed a coalition against the rebellion which included neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United  Arab Emirates. The civil war ahs generated one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today with widespread hunger and starvation. About 80 percent of Yemen’s 30 million people rely on aid to survive. The United Nations said last year that approximately 233,000 people had died as a result of the conflict. The Houthis are backed by Iran which supplies them with missile and drone technology they have used to devastating effect against civilian targets inside Saudi Arabia. The Houthis routinely target civilians and have kidnapped Americans in the past.

In March, the Biden administration restored $73 million in US aid to Houthi-controlled northern Yemen that the Trump administration suspended. It was unclear what procedures are in place that would ensure that the funds are not usurped for terrorism. At the same time, the Biden administration cut off funding and aid to the Saudi offensive operations against the Houthis. The Biden administration also reverse a policy put in place by the Trump administration which designated the Houthis as a terrorist organization remove senior officials in the group from the Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) list.

Saudi Arabia is constantly targeted by Houthi air attacks and in  2019, a drone attack targeting an oil facility halted half of the country’s oil production. Though the Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack, it is believed that it was carried out by Iran. At the orders of President Trump, the US deployed two Patriot Missile batteries to Saudi Arabia in response to the attack.

The Houthis are sympathetic to Hezbollah and Hamas, also funded by Iran. In June, a Houthi radio station in Beirut called to attack Israel with rockets. This was not the first time the Houthis have threatened Israel. In July 2020, Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim, the head of the Houthis’ Intelligence and Reconnaissance Authority, told the September 26 newspaper that the authority has a “bank of vital and important targets” in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The Iranian Tasnim News Agency stated that the Houthis have missiles that may be able to reach as far as Eilat and could also target Israeli ships in the southern Red Sea. The news agency claimed that the Houthis have “nothing to lose by targeting Zionist positions.” This echoes similar threats made in recent years by the Iranian-backed terrorist organization.

The Houthis also expelled all the Jews still living in regions they control. Saudi newspapers reported that the Houthis have made it a goal to wipe out the Yemenite Jewish community entirely.