Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Geopolitical turbulence in the Middle East and consequences for Indian subcontinent

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Countries of the Middle East

Mains level : Paper 3- Trends from the Middle East and implications for the Indian subcontinent

Three broad trends emerging from the Middle East and its implication for the region have been discussed here.

Growing vulnerability of Iran and implications for subcontinent

  • The brazen murder of a top Iranian nuclear scientist highlights the Islamic Republic of Iran’s growing strategic vulnerabilities.
  • This geopolitical turbulence in the Middle East has major consequences for the subcontinent.
  • Whether they want to or not, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh must deal with three broad trends that define the new Middle East.

3 Trends in the Middle East

1) Iran’s growing isolation

  •  The Trump administration and the Republicans, Israel and the Gulf Arabs have a shared interest in preventing the next US President from renewing nuclear diplomacy with Iran and ending Tehran’s isolation.
  • The assassination of Fakhrizadeh is about achieving that political objective.
  • If Iran retaliates vigorously, it will invite an all-out confrontation with Israel and the US.
  • Holding back will expose Iran’s weakness and sharpen internal divisions between pragmatists who want to engage the US and the hardliners.
  • The frequent attacks on high-profile Iranian targets indicate hostile penetration of its society such that domestic opponents of the regime are now willing to collaborate with foreign security agencies, including Israel’s Mossad.
  •  Iran’s internal political weakness is compounded by the massive economic pain imposed by the Trump administration through sanctions.
  • Iran has much goodwill in South Asia, but India and its neighbours have no desire to get sucked into Tehran’s conflicts with the Arabs or the US.

2)  Transformation of Arab relations with Israel

  • The fear of Iran has been driving Gulf Arabs to embrace Israel.
  • In the last few months, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have normalised ties with Israel.
  • There is speculation of an impending normalisation of ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
  • Pakistan’s Prime Minister has talked of pressure, apparently from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, on recognising Israel.
  • If Pakistan recognises Israel, Bangladesh would not want to be left behind.
  • Economic and technological collaboration with Israel will give Bangladesh’s economy and foreign policy a big boost.
  • For Israel, having Bangladesh and Pakistan, two of the world’s largest Islamic nations, recognise it would be a great ideological and political bonus
  • An India that proclaims the virtues of engaging all sides in the Middle East can’t grudge the same privilege for Israel in South Asia.

3) Rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Turkey

  • While Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE want to return the Middle East towards political and religious moderation, the once secular Turkey has become the new champion of political Islam.
  • Turkey’s contestation with Saudi Arabia is already having an impact on India and Pakistan.
  • Turkey is now hostile to India and has joined Pakistan in taking up the Kashmir question at international forums.
  • For Pakistan, this seemed a useful counter to the Gulf Arabs, who were ramping up strategic ties with India.
  • However, UAE and Saudi Arabia have the option to put massive costs on the Pakistani economy that can’t be plugged by Turkey or Malaysia.

Conclusion

Although India has made some important adjustments to its engagement with the Middle East in recent years, Delhi can’t take its eyes off the rapid changes in the region.

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