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Source: The post is based on an article “India’s new West Asia approach is a welcome break with past diffidence” published in the Indian Express on 12th July 2022.
Syllabus: GS2 – International Relations; Regional Grouping
Relevance: I2U2 Forum; Middle East Region
News: The first summit of a new forum known as I2U2 is expected to take place soon during Joe Biden’s visit to Israel.
The forum was launched in 2021. It brings together four countries, namely, India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
How is this forum important for India, in terms of relationship with the Middle East Region?
The I2U2 sets the stage for a new and dynamic phase in India’s relations with the Middle East. The US bet that India can contribute significantly to peace and prosperity in the Middle East region.
It indicates India’s new trends in its Middle East policy since 2014 because India is now ready to engage with those countries with which India had traditionally kept a safe political distance from in the Middle Eastern Region.
India’s relations with the Middle-Eastern Countries and the US
Although India was one of the first countries to recognise Israel in 1950, India did not establish full diplomatic relations with it. For example, India has hosted the Israeli PM in 2003, and there were no prime ministerial visits in either direction during the decade-long period of 2004-14.
India feared that an open engagement with Israel might complicate its relations with the Arab partners.
India-Arab World Relations
Traditionally, India preferred to engage with the republics in the Arab world. However, in the 1970s, India’s ties to the monarchies improved because they became the main source of hydrocarbons, the main destination for Indian labor exports, and a major source of hard currency remittances.
However, despite improvement in India’s economic engagement with the Arab world, India remained wary of engagement with the monarchies in the Arab World as India believed that they were pro-Pakistan.
No Indian PM visited Saudi Arabia between 1982 and 2010 and UAE between 1981 and 2015.
India has opposed its policies in the region undertaken in the name of promoting an “area of peace”. Therefore, I2U2 marks a big break from the anti-Western tradition in India’s approach to the region.
What developments made India to join the new forum?
India is engaging with Israel because various Muslim countries are improving ties with Israel. For example
(1) Turkey, now a champion of political Islam, had diplomatic ties with Israel since the year 1949.
(2) Egypt normalised its relation with Israel in 1980.
The UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco set up formal ties with Israel in 2020 Under the (3) Abrahamic accords, promoted by the Trump Administration.
India is also deepening its ties with the Arab world. For example, PM Modi, while on his first visit to Israel in 2018, also became the first Indian PM to visit Palestine.
Since 2014, India has transformed its relations with the Gulf Kingdoms, especially the UAE and Saudi-Arabia based on a personal rapport of the Indian PM and without a reference to Pakistan.
India has negotiated a free trade agreement with the UAE. The UAE has also backed India’s 2019 constitutional changes in Kashmir and is ready to invest in India’s Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir.
India has increased its engagement with the US in the Indo-Pacific through the Quad in recent years.
India is participating in the West Asian Quad. This has brought India in line with other major powers– including Europe, China, and Russia which are trying and engaging with all parties in the region.