The Israeli Air Force this morning announced that it had intercepted a surface-to-surface missile in the Red Sea. The sounds of explosions were reported in Israel’s southernmost town of Eilat.  The Israelis soon confirmed an interception by Israel’s Arrow, which marks the first time the long-range missile-defense system (developed jointly with the United States) has been activated during this war. The Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen claimed responsibility.

According to a report on Israel’s Channel 11, this was the third attempt to strike Israel from the landmass of Yemen. The Islamic Republic in Iran continues to widen its proxy war against Israel. The regime has already activated its proxies in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Indeed, the regime is still trying to orchestrate a regional war, while Israel and the United States endeavor to contain the fight to Israel’s ground operations in the Gaza Strip—at least for now.

The timing of the Houthi attack out of Yemen adds a touch of diplomatic drama to the current visit by a senior Saudi delegation to Washington. The Saudi delegation, which includes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s brother, Khaled bin Salman, flew in for sensitive consultations with the White House about the war in Gaza. The Saudis have been somewhat careful about their messaging during this conflict thus far. They had reportedly been on the cusp of a U.S.-brokered normalization agreement with Israel when the war broke out (indeed, some believe Iran launched this war when it did to disrupt the agreement).

The Biden White House has an opportunity here. The administration infuriated the Saudis back in 2021 when it de-listed the Houthis from the sanctions list against terrorist groups, reversing a designation by the Trump administration made at the eleventh hour as Trump was leaving office. The Biden administration’s reversal was completely disconnected from the question of whether the Houthis met the criteria for a terror designation. As I wrote in the Wall Street Journal last year with my FDD colleague Matthew Zweig, the Houthis met and meet this criteria in spades. It is an Iran-funded group that is armed and trained by the regime, even though it didn’t get assistance from the Islamic Republic at its inception. The group has launched more than 1,000 attacks against Saudi Arabia in recent years, and the Saudis have expressed frustration that the Biden White House has been seemingly indifferent to this.

The decision to de-list was a political one. It was driven by a desire to treat Saudi Arabia like a “pariah” in the early days of the Biden administration. It was further fueled by a desire to appease the regime in Iran in an attempt to return to nuclear diplomacy, and perhaps also to keep the Houthis engaged in a delicate U.S.-led political process to reach an enduring quiet in the war-torn country, led by special envoy Tim Lenderking.

The re-listing of the Houthis, ideally done publicly alongside Saudi officials, would send an unequivocal message to the Iranians and the wider Middle East. The message: the U.S.-Saudi relationship is back on track, and a revitalized U.S.-led regional alliance—one that includes both Israel and the Saudis—is taking shape. Such a move might be exactly what is needed to get those normalization discussions back on track between Riyadh and Jerusalem, whenever this war ends.

Critics of such a move might warn that it would needlessly provoke the Houthis. My response: They appear to be needlessly provoked already by the regime. Critics might also argue that re-listing the Houthis would prevent aid from entering Yemen. This is simply not true. Look at how much aid is pouring into Gaza, where a U.S. sanctioned terrorist group has (until now, anyway) maintained control.

A separate but interesting development to track is whether Hamas or Hezbollah operatives were involved in the recent launches out of Yemen. Saudi and Israeli officials in recent years have noted in closed-door meetings that they have observed foreign fighters from the Levant on the ground in Yemen. The Iranian regime was reportedly unsuccessful until now in getting their Yemeni clients to join the regime-engineered “ring of fire” strategy against Israel. But with more urgent efforts by the regime to spark a wider regional war against Israel, we could be watching a joint operation of Houthis, along with Hamas and/or Hezbollah operatives.

The Israelis are not likely to respond directly to this. Their goal is to focus on the dismantling of Hamas before turning their sights on other foes. But don’t discount Israeli actions in Yemen at a later date. And don’t discount Saudi actions sooner than that, particularly if the White House begins to signal a long-overdue shift in policy.

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