Shifting transnational activities will help India break loose from its traditional position. Till recently, India has been a reluctant power in this region, but with a relatively weaker US and an assertive Chinese presence, India can’t afford to remain isolated. New Delhi must calibrate its options and methods in alignment with Gulf partners and Israel for its own security and strategic interests
The Abraham Accord has unveiled a new shift in geopolitics, churning new regional realities in the West Asia. The perceived Iranian hegemonic presence from Syria to the larger Fertile Crescent has made Israel and the Gulf partners more vulnerable. This accord and the normalisation also explain a new reality: Israel has now become a formidable force in setting these emerging relations. The realpolitik is playing its serious role here. For a long time now, security dynamics in the regional context has brought Israel closer to the Arab States, particularly the Gulf monarchies.
However, the old guard shrouded in secrecy is now seems to be over. The normalisation of ties between Israel and the Gulf states was assuredly historic both in nature and in manifestation. The famous peace deal brokered by the Trump administration known as the Abraham Accord has inked an indelible mark in this volatile region that has been plagued with incessant violence and humanitarian crisis from Syria, Yemen to Libya and beyond. The long haul of an Arab-Israel conflict has now arrived at the juncture, where the famed peace process may cease the Palestinian question as redundant.
The decade after the Arab uprising, regime centric security is becoming multi-dimensional and varied, from domestic (human-centric), regional (sectarian and beyond) to global (role of the US). The Abraham Accord is more than Israel-Arab normalisation, it’s a foundation of shifting geostrategic alliance and transnational trade opportunities.
Amid the diminishing US hegemony in the region, insecurities among the Gulf states from the horde of threat perceptions have major implications. Security and trade are interlinked and a major foundation for transnational partnership. India, Israel and the Gulf states are forging a new alliance to seek a stable future and achieve purposeful strategic needs. The recent conflict between Hamas and Israel didn’t circumvent Israel growing relations with the UAE and even response from Saudi Arabia and a few Gulf partners, including Oman and Bahrain, sanctioned a needed legitimacy to foresee a possible alliance in the aftermath of Abraham accord.
If one talks about the geostrategic complexities, India stands closer to achieve some significant space in this new shift. It has been a stronger force and a trusted partner for both sides. In April this year, an event organised at the behest of the International Federation of Indo-Israel Chambers of Commerce (IFIICC) offers a new setting: Israeli innovation, UAE’s visionary leadership and strategic partnership of both nations with India. And between them “the international business potential could be USD 110 billion by 2030,” as stated by Ambassador Ilan Sztulman Starosta, Head of the Israeli mission in Dubai.
Similarly, Ambassador of the UAE to India and founding patron of IFIICC Dr Ahmed Abdul Rahman Al Banna said, “UAE and India’s bilateral trade is projected to grow from USD 60 billion in 2020 to USD 100 billion by 2030. UAE is a gateway to the world and this trilateral with India and Israel could benefit the world.” Dr Aman Puri, Consul General of India to Dubai, said, “The Indian business community in the UAE could significantly leverage the strengths of this trilateral to boost the economic growth of all nations.”
The Abraham Accord has the potential to change old narratives on Israel, and India can play a more aggressive role in the region. The UAE role is most important here and this will also establish when and how Saudi Arabia would officially join this new alliance. At the bilateral level, Saudi-Israel relation is still shaped in secrecy. Somewhere the dilemma in Riyadh is how to maintain its hegemony as a leader of Sunni internationalism if it accepts Israel without resolving the Palestinian issue amid growing Iran-Hamas relations and Turkish regional ambition. Interestingly, these shifting trends will cement India’s presence in the region, depending upon how New Delhi manoeuvres and crafts its diplomacy. India must take careful stock of these shifting trends in the regions.
So, amid these shifting geopolitics and regional dynamics in the aftermath of the Abraham Accord what really are India’s options?
Recently, India’s ambassador to UAE Pawan Kapoor, at Global Investment forum in Dubai, said the emerging contact would benefit all in post-pandemic world order. India could be a strong facilitator in cementing the emerging relations. These shifting transnational activities will help India break loose from its traditional position.
Till recently, India has been a reluctant power in this region but with a relatively weaker US and an assertive Chinese presence, India can’t afford to remain isolated. New Delhi must calibrate its options and methods in alignment with Gulf partners and Israel for its own security and strategic interests. India has many favourable conditions at its disposal. Firstly, India’s robust critical engagement with Israel on various issues from defence to agriculture and cyber and artificial intelligence shapes this special relation. On the other hand, India’s engagement with the Gulf States has gone beyond oil and without any historical baggage (on Kashmir and interference in other domestic issues).
Also, it is relevant that the Gulf states’ non-secretive relations with Israel would certainly legitimise India’s de-hyphenation policy towards Israel-Palestine relations. The grievance of the past when India had to walk a cautious path while dealing with Israel bears no contemporary relevance in both strategic and political terms. The emerging ties between India and Israel and India-GCC relations may help find new ways for multilateral engagements on strategic issues like, security, energy challenges, agriculture, space to cyber technology. The mutual interest among these countries would redefine India’s policy in the region. India’s relation with the “Muslim World” has now slowly and emphatically made the “Pakistan factor” inconsequential.
India’s energy security challenges and conditions of its expatriate workers’ conditions in the Gulf might serve India’s long term interest if it engages more pragmatically in this region. Further, the coalescence of Israel’s innovation and India’s robust agricultural sector experience may help in calibrating India’ position with Gulf countries on food security. This might expand India’s larger interest from defence to other national security challenges.
Besides the security and other strategic value of these emerging contacts, the aftermath of this normalisation has the potential to change the dynamics of the region. This may find India’s soft power indispensable considering its cultural linkages with these countries.
From an Indian standpoint, these developments may have geopolitical, regional and other consequences for its foreign policy challenges but certainly, they can serve India’s strategic interest. India and Israel’s relations have found new trajectories beyond defence and agriculture to cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. In the past, India and UAE have signed a deal for securing their huge oil base. Similarly, India had major deals with Saudi for a huge investment. Notably, these Gulf states have one of the highest sovereign wealth funds and India offers an attractive market. However, this hasn’t changed much, partly due to India’s archaic bureaucracy.
Further, India needs more clarity in its relationship with Saudi Arabia in particular, considering, the recent setback on the issue of oil import. Also, India’s current domestic factors have seriously damaged its democratic credentials. Lastly, India’s soft power has created a trust factor. In March 2020, the UN approached India for a constructive mediation between Israel and Palestinian considering New Delhi’s good relations with both sides. India’s official de-hyphenation policy has been hailed by these two sides in the recent past. India has been deeply engaged in Palestine for institutional building and equally shares a special relationship with Israel.
The language of these emerging situations needs more plurality to make India a constructive partner and not just an emerging power. India’s old dilemma for “no mediation policy” needs serious clarity. This will also help India’s profile and future engagements with the Gulf partners. Indian story needs a change both in perception and in reality. In the aftermath of the Abraham Accord, these emerging contacts among India, Israel and the Gulf countries can serve the interest of all parties based on mutual trust and shared strategic values.
Culture, faith and other civilizational linkages sustain a historical significance but the nature of the international system is anarchic and any missed opportunity will be self-defeating. These emerging transnational trade activities have a potential to change the political and security dynamics in the West Asia and thus, India must seize this opportunity and align its foreign policy objectives with pragmatism.
(The writer is a doctoral candidate, Centre for West Asian Studies, JNU, New Delhi)