A Middle East Quad? Scope for synergies, but divergences over Iran

Within the new Middle East/West Asia Quad, there is space for trilateral economic cooperation between India, the UAE and Israel

Tridivesh Singh Maini Nov 02, 2021
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Middle East Quad

The Foreign Ministers of India, the UAE and Israel as well as the US Secretary of State met virtually during S. Jaishankar's visit to Tel Aviv. In recent years, India’s ties have witnessed an upswing with the US, Israel and the UAE not just in the economic but the strategic sphere too. While the India-UAE relationship was earlier driven by oil and diaspora, attempts have been made lately to broaden the bilateral ties.  

Last year, the UAE and Israel signed the Abraham Accords. The UAE gave diplomatic recognition to Israel and set up a consulate there. Israel responded in kind and forged diplomatic relations with Bahrain as well. 

The State Department said after the Foreign Ministers’ talks that Antony Blinken, Yair Lapid, Abdullah bin Zayed and Jaishankar discussed "expanding economic and political cooperation in the Middle East and Asia, including through trade, combating climate change, energy cooperation and increasing maritime security".  

Business ties emphasized 

Blinken and Jaishankar remarked on the close relations which all the four countries shared. The Israeli Minister flagged the need for business-business relations. Said Lapid: "The key to success is how quickly we can move from ‘government-to-government’ to ‘business-to-business’? How quickly can we turn this into a working process that will put boots on the ground, changing infrastructure around the world.” 

The four countries can cooperate in areas like maritime security, infrastructure and, given the Abraham Accords, there is space for trilateral economic cooperation between India, the UAE and Israel. 

Varying views on Iran 

Firstly, the UAE and India are both looking to improve their ties with Iran given their economic and strategic interests. Israel’s relations with Iran remain strained. In fact, it has been argued that Israel is an obstruction to the revival of the Iran nuclear deal. The US too has adopted a more aggressive posture under pressure from Israel.  

The differing approach on Iran was flagged by the Israeli envoy in India who said his country viewed Iran as a "real threat"; for India, Iran was an important partner in Afghanistan. 

Second, India has joined the US camp to counter the Chinese threat and to come up with a parallel economic narrative to Beijing’s.  Both the UAE and Israel share close economic relations with China. India’s trade with China is estimated at over $90 billion. 

While there is scope for synergies, certain ground realities need to be borne in mind and expectations from the new Quad should be realistic.

(The author is a New Delhi-based policy analyst associated with the O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India. The views expressed are personal.)