New Quad signals India’s strategic shift in the Middle East – the New Indian Express
Almost three decades after Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao broke with the past and normalized relations with Israel in January 1992, India took an important step in framing the Jewish state in its broader Middle East policy. -East. Until now, the Southern Bloc has taken Israel into account in its policy vis-à-vis Washington. However, during his five-day visit to Israel this month, Foreign Minister Dr S Jaishankar laid the groundwork for a broader regional approach with Israel as the fulcrum, in a virtual meeting with its American, Emirati and Israeli counterparts. There are already suggestions that the “minilateral” could include like-minded countries like Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and France.
The new and mini Quad (including India, Israel, United Arab Emirates and the United States) is innovative, non-confrontational and will therefore be sustainable. The other comprising Australia, India, Japan and the United States, whose seeds were sown in 2007, is hampered by a host of security challenges. These countries were brought together mainly because of their concerns over China’s strategic ancestry, and the Quad faced a host of political and economic hurdles. With China as the main trading partner, no one has the luxury of being overtly anti-Beijing. Opposition to China being the common unifier (if not the only one) presented a negative view of the Quad. Additionally, when the US needed a stronger framework, it settled for AUKUS without prior notification or consultation with other Quad members.
Second, the new Middle East Quad is different and will be more difficult for India than the Indo-Pacific one. It will not be a talk shop like the others of which India is a member. Besides the hype and the photo ops, what have been the tangible gains for India? Statements and declarations do not replace deliverables. The new Quad is designed as an economic forum, similar to ASEAN in its infancy. The first reports highlight cooperation in infrastructure, trade, technology, health and big data aimed at economic growth. Even maritime security cooperation would imply freedom of navigation for all coastal and non-coastal states, and ensure safe passage for oil and non-oil cargoes, especially in the Persian Gulf region.
Three, unlike the Indo-Pacific Quad, the Middle East Quad doesn’t seem to target any particular country, ideology, or group. There is no one to gang up on. While Iran may be of concern to some, others do not see Tehran as an existential threat. While there would be a greater exchange of ideas, some would not engage with Israel for aggressive posture or actions. The UAE and India both have reasons to develop closer ties with Iran, while the Biden administration is less virulent against Iran than its predecessor. However, there is an unexpected benefit; since the mini-Quad reinforces the regional importance of New Delhi, Iran should accommodate India in its Afghan policy.
Fourth, since economic cooperation is at the forefront, the Quad will not progress solely on the shoulders of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The economic wing within the embassies (introduced in the mid-1990s following economic reforms) will have to be strengthened, and the South Bloc will have to call on other governmental and non-governmental actors to make the forum fruitful. That means more costumes and fewer bandhgalas if this Quad is to be successful. It won’t be easy either. If the economy is the engine, then the private sector will also need to increase its size and imagination. Even three decades after economic liberalization, their cross-border presence is negligible and they still operate primarily as subcontractors, vendors and suppliers.
Fifth, Rao’s decision to normalize relations with Israel has offered India the opportunity to redefine its policy in the Middle East. But that it took nearly three decades for this to happen underscores regional complexities and India’s inhibitions to pursuing a more assertive policy with Israel. While Prime Minister Modi cut off Israel and Palestine, the development of a regional policy on the former had to wait for the Biden administration. Interestingly, Jaishankar’s third visit to Israel in four years began in Abu Dhabi, where he had discussions with Emirati officials.
And six, this Quad will push India to transform. While the United States might be more forgiving of Indian Stretch Time, Israel and the United Arab Emirates are impatient countries. Their economic transformation has been carried out with greater attention to efficiency, lowering costs and shortening delivery times. Their preference for technology and innovation is partly motivated by their “yesterday’s research” mode of operation. India, on the other hand, is eloquent in its promises and stingy in deliverables. Not an ideal partner for the work culture of Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Therefore, the success of the new Middle East Quad hinges on India moving away from rhetoric, focusing on deliverables, and hopefully improving its work culture and efficiency.
Professor at JNU. Teaches the contemporary Middle East