India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States began a new quadrilateral economic forum this week focused on trade, climate change, energy, and maritime security.
In September last year Israel, UAE and Bahrain had signed Abraham Accords brokered by the US which has subsequently led to normalising of relations between Israel and a number of Arab Gulf countries.
Abraham Accord: A backgrounder
- The Israel–UAE normalization agreement is officially called the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement.
- It was initially agreed to in a joint statement by the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on August 13, 2020.
- The UAE thus became the third Arab country, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, to agree to formally normalize its relationship with Israel as well as the first Persian Gulf country to do so.
- Concurrently, Israel agreed to suspend plans for annexing parts of the West Bank.
- The agreement normalized what had long been informal but robust foreign relations between the two countries.
The idea of the Indo-Abrahamic Accord
- The idea of an accord between India, the UAE and Israel was first suggested by Mohammed Soliman, an Egyptian scholar based in Washington.
- The focus, then, was on India taking full advantage of the normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arabs.
Prospects of India joining the accord
- Adding “Indo” to the Abrahamic Accords — from think tank level to the policy domain underlines the extraordinary churn in the geopolitics of the Middle East.
- It also points to new openings for India in the region and ever-widening possibilities for Delhi’s strategic cooperation with Washington.
Significance for India
The new minilateral consultation with the US, Israel and the UAE have started breaking that political taboo by:
(1) Creating a minilateral in the Middle-East:
- Such events mark an important turning point in Delhi’s engagement with the Middle East.
- It suggests India is now ready to move from bilateral relations conducted in separate silos towards an integrated regional policy.
- As in the Indo-Pacific, so in the Middle East, regional coalitions are bound to widen Delhi’s reach and deepen its impact.
(2) India bridging the Arab-Israeli rift:
- Often the Arab nations and Israel are divided over Palestine.
- The simultaneous expansion of Delhi’s cooperation with Israel and the Arab world was considered impossible.
- However, India’s new foreign policy broke from that assessment and demonstrated the feasibility of a non-ideological engagement with the Middle East.
- This diplomatic pragmatism allows Delhi to reimagine its policies towards the Middle East.
(3) Extension of cooperation with the US:
- Thinking of the US as a partner in the Middle East is part of the reimagination.
- For long, India defined the US, and more broadly the West, as part of the problem in the Middle East.
- With this QUAD, U.S.-India relations have continued to deepen.
- India’s scale with Israeli innovation and Emirati capital could produce immense benefits to all three countries.
- Add American strategic support and you would see a powerful dynamic unfolding in the region.
India’s interest in the new QUAD
New Delhi sees the Middle East as strategically significant. India has ramped up diplomacy with many regional players, including Saudi Arabia, but Israel and the UAE have long been key targets.
- Energy basket: It depends heavily on its energy imports, and nearly 9 million Indian workers live in the Persian Gulf.
- Armoury for India: Israel is a major arms supplier to India.
- Agri-tech: Israel also has cutting-edge agricultural technologies that could help enhance water management.
- Infrastructure financing: The UAE can provide India with much-needed infrastructure financing. This has very much implicated in the recent proposal by Dubai to invest in Jammu and Kashmir.
What is the kind of agenda that this group can develop?
Economic Cooperation: Like the eastern Quad, it would make sense for the new Middle Eastern minilateral to focus on non-military issues like trade, energy, and environment and focus on promoting public goods.
Technology cooperation: Beyond trade, there is potential for India, UAE and Israel to collaborate on many areas — from semiconductor design and fabrication to space technology.
A new geopolitical entity: The new “Quad” in the Middle East is likely to be India’s only new coalition in the region. It provides a thrust to new regionalism to the west involving India.
‘Extended’ neighbourhood: This engagement will open the door for extending the collaboration with other common regional partners like Egypt (better call it Suez Canal), who will lend great strategic depth to the Indo-Abrahamic accords.
How are the two QUADs different?
The two groups are distinct entities with different geographical remits, although their areas of cooperation may overlap. The two Quads are quite different in other ways.
- No China factor: The so-called new Quad is not as focused on countering China’s rise as the original one.
- Formal consensus in lacking: It lacks a strong, shared purpose, its future trajectory is more uncertain.
- Not an Alliance: As with the other Quad, this arrangement is a loose grouping, not an alliance. It is framed as an economic forum and not as an strategic alliance.
- Iran at the focus: The new quad does not appear to be aimed at any particular country, ideology or group. There is no one to gang up against, but Iran.
- This Quad will push India to transform itself.
- While the US might be more lenient towards Indian stretchable time, Israel and the UAE are impatient countries.
- This engagement has thus opened up a new opportunity for India to go for deeper engagement with Israel without risking its relations with the other Arab states of the Persian Gulf.
Caution for India
- India must not get drawn into the region’s conflicts.
- Importantly, India must ensure that the new Quad’s decisions do not adversely impact its relationship with Iran. It should not restrict India’s outreach to Iran
- India should help the new Quad build bridges with Iran, just as Israel should use its good offices with Beijing to rein in China.
- India is increasingly shedding its inhibitions over joining groupings and this is good, so long as it is not bound into exclusive relationships.
- China manages strong parallel ties with both Iran and Israel. India should be able to do so, too.
- The new and mini-Quad is innovative, non-confrontationist and hence will be enduring.
- In the evolving scenario, there seems much scope for a profitable trilateral synergy.
- Though its trajectory is uncertain, it has considerable potential because of the warm relations among the parties.