Indian and Israel are again on the table exchanging friendly words in Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar’s recent visit to Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told him that ‘Israel loves India’ and with this statement, it can be gauged that a lot of new things are on the line. The visit’s significant moments have been many, the top most being India providing an extension to the purpose behind the historical Abraham Accords by becoming a part of the US-Israel-UAE trilateral, with some labeling it as ‘QUAD 2’ or the ‘Middle Eastern QUAD’.
This grouping under Israeli initiative backed by the USA has sent a signal that the Middle East may have not slipped away much from the hands of the United States. The Taliban takeover has had strong echoes since it has reinvigorated the efforts of the United States’ adversaries in undermining it in Asia and it has also compelled the United States to rethink over the course which their foreign policy should embark upon, which now has to accommodate and treat the Indo-Pacific and the Middle-East alike, kudos to the rise of the Chinese.
It is in this scenario that India has to function and reinstate itself in this volatile region by giving a thrust to the already established relationships with the countries of the region. Afghanistan got generous investments for its development from the coffers of New Delhi but relationship with it has received some setback due to the occupation by the Taliban. With one avenue being temporarily closed, it is wise to focus over the other. The bonhomie between India and Israel has augmented considerably. Gone are the days when Yasser Arafat used to be the brother of Indian Prime Ministers, now cordial handshakes with Israeli leaders seem to have become the new norm.
The visit by Narendra Modi in 2017 signaled the importance which Israeli expertise in technology and other avenues for development had in India’s eyes. Courting Israel would also bolster the chances of the cherished Arab-Mediterranean Corridor which shall provide a beneficial route to Europe. The visit by Dr. Jaishankar has renewed commitment on starting negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement between the two nations from next month, which could make Israel a vital partner of India after the UAE. Moreover, cooperation in energy and agriculture are the points on which this friendship can develop further. All this sounds good, but here’s the catch: what about Iran?
Not long ago, Foreign Minister Jaishankar visited Iran twice within a span of a single month, becoming the first foreign dignitary to meet the recently elected President Ebrahim Raisi. It was during the Taliban’s rapid takeover of districts and before their offensive on Kabul, and it could be seen that New Delhi was considering Iran if things went awry. Having no significant engagement with the Taliban, India needs someone to cooperate with and Iran potentially fulfills the void, especially when China and Russia are also highly interested in the region. Moreover, apart from Qatar, Iran was also a host of the negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban before the former’s downfall. A common concern for terrorism and the need to keep channels open in order to get a respite from US sanctions need that Iran tread the waters carefully and India can help it. At least that’s what the visits by Jaishankar seemed to convey.
Now increased engagement with Israel isn’t what Tehran may welcome with open arms, especially when both Israel and Iran exchange barbs with each other. India knows it and that is why the new QUAD may not take off as high as may be expected by the other three states. India may try to keep it to the level of economic cooperation and on solving global problems since it wants to avoid sides not only during a shadow conflict between Israel and Iran but also between the USA and its famous opponents China and Russia at large. If there’s the Arab-Mediterranean corridor, then there is also the Chennai-Vladivostok corridor on the line. If there are words of admiration for the USA, then there is also an appeal to China to cooperate and stand for Asian solidarity.
It should be taken into account that Israel is going to be one of the platforms of the USA during negotiations with Iran for a new nuclear deal. Stripped from Afghanistan, it needs its allies in the Middle East more than ever so that it could now use diplomacy to counter adverse interests. Dr. Jaishankar visited Israel on the invitation of Jerusalem. Moreover it has been reported that the idea of the quadrilateral meet emerged during Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid’s visit to the US earlier this month. And while India has reciprocated by inviting Prime Minister Bennett to visit New Delhi, it might be prepared to keep the relationship to a win-win for all, not just for the USA.
-writer is student & blogger