The Dangerous U.S. Capitulation to Iran in Yemen

Feb. 16 2021

On February 5, the State Department informed Congress of its plans to remove Yemen’s Houthi guerrillas from its list of foreign terrorist organizations, a decision that goes into effect today. In the two days after the announcement, the Houthis—an Iran-backed insurrectionist group that has plunged the country into a bloody civil war—launched five drone attacks on civilian targets in Yemen, leading to a condemnation from Foggy Bottom, but no change in policy. Elliott Abrams observes a “contradiction.”

What do we usually call attacks on civilians, of the sort that led to this State Department rebuke? Terrorism. What might we call [the] December Houthi attack, [on the Yemeni city of Aden, that killed 22 and wounded 50 more]? Again, this is rightly called terrorism. The main defense of the Trump administration decision to call the Houthis terrorists is that they repeatedly commit acts of terrorism. QED. And the main critique of the Biden administration’s revocation of that decision is equally simple: the Houthis have long committed, and continue to commit, acts of terror. They should be designated a foreign terrorist organization because they are one.

The motivation for the Biden decision is clear: the designation may have a negative humanitarian impact in Yemen because some suppliers of food and other goods may back away for fear of prosecution. It may also be that the administration concluded that the terrorism designation would make negotiating with the Houthis more complex, thereby hindering efforts to end the war.

Logic suggests an alternative view: that the Houthis will be less inclined to negotiate, especially because the administration’s decision comes only days after its statement that it would no longer support offensive military operations by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. If I were a Houthi leader, I might conclude “I am winning. The Americans want out. They’ve walked away from the Saudis and reversed the terrorism designation even though my own behavior has not changed. Why negotiate?” If that is right, the Biden administration ought to be thinking hard about ways to change the incentive structure it has backed into.

The day after Abrams wrote these words, the Houthi drones attacked an airport in southern Saudi Arabia, setting a civilian plane on fire.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Iran, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen


The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy