Lessons on navigating the evolving geopolitics in the Middle East

Source: This post is created based on the article “Lessons on navigating the evolving geopolitics in the Middle East” published in Indian Express on 19th July 2022.

Syllabus: GS Paper 2 –International Relations

Context: Joe Biden’s recent trip to the Middle East highlights some new trends that are reshaping the region. India should consider these new trends and take lessons in its engagement with the region.

What are the new trends that are reshaping the geopolitics of the Middle East?

First, it was a common belief among the liberals now that US will now separate itself from the messy politics of the Middle East. This belief was strengthened by the events like US exit from Afghanistan and expansion of hydrocarbon production in the US or energy independence of US from the Middle East. However, US has clarified that it will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia, or Iran.

Second, US is changing its pattern of engagement with the region. It is changing its role from the sole provider of regional security to helping its regional partners develop capabilities to secure themselves. For example, efforts are being made to develop Middle East Air Defence (MEAD) coalition involving the US, Israel, and some of the Arab nations. I2U2 (India-Israel-UAE-USA) Grouping is another example.

Third, Biden has modified the popular belief that the major contradiction in the world is the “conflict between democracies and autocracies.” It was necessary as the Middle East, in particular, is a place where ideologies come to die due to existing monarchies and autocracies.

Fourth, Biden’s attitude proves that “interests” generally tend to triumph over “values in the conduct of foreign policy. During his election campaign, Biden vowed to isolate Saudi Arabia (SA) from the rest of the world, due to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents. However, amidst the pressing need to cool down the global oil market and ease domestic inflation, Biden had to repair the relations with SA.

Fifth, Middle East is learning to put national interest above other identities such as ethnicity and religion. For example;

Normalisation of relations with Israel to counter the threat from Iran.

The contradiction between Arabs and Iran has emerged as a major fault line in the region, despite their shared Islamic identity.

Many Gulf kingdoms, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are now consciously promoting a national identity among their peoples. It is being done by celebrating “national days” and creating greater popular awareness of national histories and heritage.

Sixth, Israel in the past aligned with non-Arab Muslim states like Iran and Turkey to act against Arabs. However, now it is aligning with Arabs against Iran. Turkey, despite shared religious identities, undermined many of the Arab regimes recently. Whereas, Qatar is closer to non-Arab Turkey and in opposition to its Gulf Arab neighbors.

Thus, India should consider the complexity of the changing dynamics in the Middle East in framing its foreign policies for the region.

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