Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Lessons on navigating the evolving geopolitics in the Middle East

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : I2U2

Mains level : Paper 2- Geopolitics in the Middle East

Context

The US President’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel highlights not only some new trends that are reshaping the region but also eternal truths about international politics that are lost in the din of public discourse about the Middle East.

What is the significance of the visit

1] The US is not abandoning the Middle East

  • Contrary to the popular perception in the US, the region, and India, the US is not about to abandon the Middle East.
  • Many in the US political class believed that given America’s oil independence from the Middle East no longer needed the region.
  • American withdrawal from Afghanistan last year intensified these concerns and the region looked for alternative means to secure itself.
  • But as in the Indo-Pacific and Europe, the Biden Administration has concluded that it can’t cede its regional primacy in the Middle East and is ready to reclaim its leadership.
  • But as in the Indo-Pacific and Europe, the Biden Administration has concluded that it can’t cede its regional primacy in the Middle East and is ready to reclaim its leadership.

2] No direct involvement

  • While the US will stay put in the Middle East, it is certainly changing the manner in which it acts.
  • In the past, the US saw itself as the sole provider of regional security and was ready to send its troops frequently into the region.
  • While the US does not want to be drawn directly into the region’s wars, it is determined to help its partners develop capabilities to secure themselves.
  • Arab-Israel reconciliation: Efforts are also being taken to produce greater reconciliation among Arabs and Israel and create stronger networks within and beyond the region to strengthen deterrence against adversaries.
  • The current effort to craft a Middle East Air Defence coalition is an example of this,
  • The I2U2 signals that the US no longer views the Middle East in isolation from its neighbourhood.

3] Setting aside the differences on democracy vs autocracy debate

  • Biden had to modify his sweeping rhetoric about the “conflict between democracies and autocracies” as the principal contradiction in the world.
  • To sustain the US position in the region, Biden had no option but to sit with leaders of monarchies and autocracies that are America’s long-standing partners.

4] Nation above identities

  • Biden’s focus on national interest found an echo in the Middle East, which is learning to put nation above other identities such as ethnicity and religion.
  • In the past, the region seemed immune to nationalism as it focused on transcendental notions of “pan Arabism” and “pan Islamism”.
  • Although the idea of Arab solidarity on the Palestine issue endures, many Arab leaders are not willing to let that come in the way of normalisation of relations with Israel.
  • A critical section of the Arabs, long seen as irreconcilably opposed to Israel, are now joining hands with the Jewish state to counter threats to their national security from Iran.
  • Many Gulf kingdoms, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are now consciously promoting a national identity among their peoples.
  •  Despite shared religion, Turkey’s leader Recep Erdogan has in recent years sought to undermine many of the Arab regimes.
  • Qatar has often found itself closer to non-Arab Turkey and in opposition to its Gulf Arab neighbours.

Conclusion

Delhi, whose Middle East policy today is imbued with greater realism, can hopefully discard the inherited ideological inertia, avoid the temptation of seeing the Middle East through a religious lens, and strive hard to realise the full possibilities awaiting India in the region.

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