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According to an article in Foreign Policy, a US-based journal on global events, India is developing as a “major power” in the Middle East, and it is time to take New Delhi’s projection of strength in the region seriously.
Steven A Cook, the author, mentioned one of his prior travels to India as the reason he was doubtful about India’s future position in the Middle East.
“India and Middle Eastern countries were already intertwined in numerous ways. India and Israel had developing military and technological relations. Going through the Persian Gulf region was impossible without seeing that guest labourers from the Indian state of Kerala provided the labour that kept several Gulf countries running. India also purchased a significant amount of oil from the Middle East. “However, after speaking with officials, diplomats, generals, and analysts, it became clear to me that Indians did not want to play a larger role in the Middle East,” he wrote in the article.
However, he stated that things had changed and that India was now emerging as a key role in the Middle East.
“However, things have changed in the ten years since my trip.” While US officials and analysts are obsessed with every diplomatic move Beijing makes and view Chinese investment in the Middle East with suspicion, Washington is overlooking one of the most interesting geopolitical developments in the region in years: India’s emergence as a major player in the region,” Cook said.
He went on to say that India-Israel relations are possibly the most developed of New Delhi’s contacts in the region.
Although India recognising Israel in 1950, normal diplomatic relations between the two countries did not begin until 1992. They have become closer since then, particularly in recent years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the first Indian leader to visit Israel in 2017, and his Israeli counterpart visited India the following year.
“Beyond the pomp and circumstance of these visits, India-Israel ties have rapidly developed in a variety of fields, most notably high-tech and defence,” he said.
Cook asserted, citing the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, that Israel will be one of India’s top three arms suppliers in 2021, and recent Indian press reports indicate that the two nations are discussing weapon system coproduction.
In the past, India’s business community avoided investing in Israel due to the country’s limited market and problematic politics (too many Indians), but that may be changing, he noted.
“In 2022, the Adani Group and an Israeli partner won a 1.2 billion USD tender for Haifa Port.” A free trade agreement between India and Israel is also being negotiated. In fact, the relationship between India and Israel is difficult. “India remains steadfast in its support for the Palestinians; it has friendly relations with Iran, from which New Delhi has purchased significant amounts of oil; and Indian elites tend to view Israel through the lens of their country’s own colonial experience,” he added.
Cook went on to say that the Gulf, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, were aggressively pursuing ways to strengthen ties with India, which is a significant move given that both nations, particularly the latter, had traditionally been associated with Pakistan.
“The pivot to India is motivated in part by a shared interest in containing Islamist extremism, but the pull is primarily economic.” The Emiratis and Saudis see prospects in a 1.4 billion-person country only a four-hour flight away. So far, the results have been encouraging. “Non-oil trade between the UAE and India reached 45 billion USD in the first 11 months of the UAE-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which entered into force in May 2022, representing a nearly 7% increase over the previous year,” Cook said.
He emphasised that the relations between India and the UAE were fostered through I2U2, a collaboration of Israel, India, the UAE, and the United States that attempts to utilise the combined technological know-how and private money to address alternative energy, agriculture, trade, infrastructure development, and other issues.
Saudi Arabia, India’s second-largest supplier of oil and gas, also seeks to strengthen the energy connection by incorporating renewables.
“In April, the Indian new site Siasat.com reported that Riyadh and New Delhi were in talks on connecting India’s electrical system to the kingdom (and the UAE) via undersea cables. “It is unclear whether such an ambitious project will ever come to fruition, but those talks indicate that the Indian and Saudi governments are looking for ways to add to the existing 43 billion USD in bilateral trade,” he wrote in Foreign Policy.
PM Modi leading India as major power in the Middle East
The author referred to PM Modi’s recent state visit to Egypt as an incident in the ongoing Egyptian-Indian love fest, which occurred approximately six months after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was the guest of honour at India’s 74th Republic Day celebration-his third visit to India.
“In comparison to Israel, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, trade between India and Egypt is relatively modest, amounting to approximately $6 billion USD.” Egypt’s leaders, whose economic incompetence has resulted in a debt crisis and 30% inflation, are seeking assistance from India. “There is also talk of trading in rupees because the Egyptians are running low on dollars,” the article continued.
Cook, however, stated that Egypt’s numerous economic woes are not the only factors driving the expanding connection and that India views Egypt as a gateway through which to move commodities to Africa and Europe.
“It’s tempting for US policymakers and analysts to see India’s growing role in the region through the lens of great-power rivalry with China.” “At a high level, playing the “India card” appears to be a wise move in the new great game,” he said in his post.
Given India and China’s long history of hostility, border disputes, and even armed conflicts, the author believes that additional counterweight to Beijing in the Middle East would be beneficial as the Biden administration shifts from de-emphasizing the region to viewing it as an area of opportunity to contain China.
“And Modi’s visit to Washington in late June was also a love fest, including a state dinner and an address to a joint session of Congress,” he continued.
However, the author added that it is “unlikely” that New Delhi wishes to be the strategic partner that Washington envisions, given India’s historical ties to Russia and even its recent stance during Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“New Delhi has condemned Russia’s invasion but has not voted to condemn Moscow in the United Nations and is a prodigious procurer of Russian arms and oil,” he said.
He went on to say that India’s position on Iran differs drastically from that of the United States and Israel and that Washington should limit its expectations about what the expansion of India’s economic and security connections to the Middle East means.
“It is unlikely that India will align with the US, but it is also unlikely that New Delhi will undercut Washington as Beijing and Moscow have,” the author said.
“The evolution of India’s place in the Middle East reflects the changing international order and the willingness–perhaps even eagerness–of regional countries to benefit from the new multipolarity,” he added.
The author went on to say that if the US Middle Eastern partners are seeking an alternative to Washington, New Delhi is a better option.
“The United States may no longer be the undisputed big dog in the region, but as India expands its presence in the Middle East, neither Russia nor China can assume that role,” he said.