Grand Opportunity for India to ‘Act West’ in the Middle East

The India-Israel-UAE relationship has the potential to be the fulcrum for India’s ‘Act West’ policy with defence and security being among the key thrust areas where Israeli technology, UAE resources and Indian skilled workforce can come together

Opinion

By Md Muddassir Quamar

The signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel and four Arab countries—United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco—was a historic development for a fractious Middle East. For the first time, a group of Arab countries not only recognised Israel as a sovereign country but also normalised relations with the Jewish state. That the Accords were signed under mediation from the United States was no surprise.

What was remarkable was that the agreement came without any seemingly significant quid pro quovis-à-vis the Palestinian or Arab claims (except in the case of Morocco wherein the United States recognised the Moroccan sovereignty claims over Western Sahara).

Notably, unlike Egypt and Jordan that had recognised Israel and established diplomatic relationship with it in 1979 and 1993 respectively that created the ‘Cold peace’ between these states, the Abraham Accords are considered a harbinger of an active cooperation between the Arab countries and Israel.

Nearly a year from the breakthrough announcement by the Donald Trump Administration in August 2020, some patterns are now emerging.

With opening of embassies and exchange of diplomats, the Israel-UAE and Israel-Bahrain relations are developing robustly. Israel and Morocco have also begun the process of establishing diplomatic presence and exchanging emissaries.

In terms of trade, business and cultural exchanges, the Israel-UAE relations are at the forefront. The two countries are openly embracing official, business and casual visitors from each other. Cooperation in healthcare amidst the Covid-19 pandemic has progressed vigorously.

What was remarkable was that the agreement came without any seemingly significant quid pro quovis-à-vis the Palestinian or Arab claims

A number of Israeli and Emirati higher education and research institutions have signed bilateral MoUs to collaborate in joint research and exchange researchers and experts. Participation in sports and cultural activities from both sides has increased.

Significantly, the UAE and Israel have also been developing a robust partnership in the military and security sector; although it is evident that the security establishment from the two countries had been meeting and exchanging views much earlier than the signing of the Accords.

Nonetheless, the Abraham Accords has led to open and public security engagement especially as both Israel and UAE have similar threat perceptions as far as the regional security situation is concerned.

For India, the Abraham Accords, especially the normalisation of relations between Israel and UAE offers newer opportunities for strengthening its ‘Act West’ policy. That the two—Israel and UAE—are the most important regional partners of India in the Middle East is an added advantage and should encourage both the public and private sectors to begin collaborations in achieving India’s developmental needs and economic ambitions. Diplomatic and political opportunities notwithstanding there are four broad areas where India, UAE and Israel can look for cooperation.

Firstly, there are immense potential for scientific and technological collaborations. India faces a number of developmental challenges emanating from its massive size, large population, rapid urbanisation and its aspirational youth population.

UAE and Israel have also been developing a robust partnership in the military and security sector; although it is evident that the security establishment from the two countries had been meeting and exchanging views much earlier

Israel, which although is a tiny country with only about 9.5 million population, is one of the world’s most advanced country in terms of scientific and technological innovations. The UAE, on the other hand, is a rich nation that faces some challenges emanating from the need for transformation of its economic base beyond oil. The Emirati leadership has, therefore, begun to invest earnestly in scientific and technological innovations to be able to meet the future developmental needs.

The complementarity in terms of the requirements, resources, expertise and political will between India, Israel and UAE makes its attractive for all three countries.

There are many areas in which the Israeli technology, UAE resources and Indian skilled workforce can come together to find innovative solutions for developmental problems. For example, the issues emanating from rapid urbanisation, such as waste management, water treatment and need for better urban planning, are serious issues that need innovative solutions.

Many Israeli companies have developed innovative solutions in these areas, while Emirati businesses are keen in investing in these sectors. Indian companies and start-ups can, therefore, find Israeli and Emirati collaborators to work on these issues in partnership with district and city administration.

Similarly, issues emanating from rising population in terms of environmental degradation and pollution can be another area for collaboration for Indian, Israeli and Emirati companies.

India has for long faced problems of river pollution for a variety of reasons. Mega river cleaning projects have failed to get the desired result and only partial success has been achieved in this regard. These require a more innovative and collaborative effort bringing a multi-dimensional approach in terms of the developmental needs of a growing society as well as the requirement for understanding the forces of nature in terms of climate change and global warming.

That the two—Israel and UAE—are the most important regional partners of India in the Middle East is an added advantage

Many Indian institutions of higher learning have been conducting research in these areas and have also come up with innovative ideas but the scale of innovation is yet to match the pace of the growing requirement for finding a solution. A more focused and collaborative approach might be comparatively more effective and in this regard too, the possibilities for collaboration with Israeli and Emirati enterprises should be explored.

Issues related to food security, agriculture and irrigation where India and Israel already have a robust and growing partnership can be expanded to bring Emirati companies interested in these sectors. This is an attractive area because of the Gulf countries’ dependence of imports for food security.

Similar collaboration opportunities can be explored in areas such as training and skill development, higher education and research, human resource management, healthcare as well as clean and renewable energy and space exploration.

Secondly, there are immense potentials for developing partnerships in business and investments in both conventional business sectors such as transportation, infrastructure, telecommunication, aviation and so on as well as non-conventional areas as underlined in previous paragraphs.

India has potentials not only as a huge market but also as it aspires to emerge as a global manufacturing hub. The strong political will notwithstanding, there are Indian corporations which have been focussed on grabbing new opportunities in these fields.

Collaboration with like-minded Emirati and Israeli corporations can help channelize the investment potentials, resources in terms of raw material and human resource and innovative ideas to develop business models that are not only capital incentive but also fulfil the developmental needs of the people without contributing the degradation of the land and environment.

The complementarity in terms of the requirements, resources, expertise and political will between India, Israel and UAE makes its attractive for all three countries

Thirdly, there are immense potentials in terms of collaboration in defence manufacturing. Israel is among the leading global innovators in finding high-tech solutions for military needs. Israeli radar and communication systems are among the most advanced in the world.

India has traditionally had a robust defence partnership with Israel. However, with changing times and requirements, there is a greater emphasis in India now on developing an indigenous defence industry. Stakeholders including the government, the military and industries have shown interest in this sector.

The UAE has a similar emphasis of developing a domestic defence industry and several steps have been taken by Emirati leadership to achieve this goal over the past few years.

This is again an area where strong political and business relations among India, Israel and UAE can be harnessed to achieve the respective goals of the three countries. There are already immense ongoing collaborations between Indian and Israeli defence companies and some movement have taken place in collaborations between Indian and Emirati companies. This can be further channelized to look for collaboration among the three countries.

Finally, there are potentials for partnerships in the security domain. India, Israel and UAE have similarity of views and understanding on issues such as counter-terrorism, combating radicalism, preventing organised crimes, coastal and maritime security. These are important areas that are significant for security and stability in the three respective regions that is the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf and the Arab Sea.

There are potentials for partnerships in the security domain. India, Israel and UAE have similarity of views and understanding on issues

The three countries therefore can take initiatives to develop a trilateral dialogue to discuss strategic issues. While some degree of collaboration or discussion at the government level might be going on already, the need is to strengthen dialogue among think-tanks and research institutions working on these fields for finding solutions to problems faced by the three countries.

The progress in relations between Israel and UAE in the year since the announcement of the Abraham Accords has been significant.

India is viewed as an important rising global power by both these countries and in terms of political, economic and cultural relations, India has strong relations with Israel as well as the UAE. In fact, it would not be wrong to terms India’s relations with the UAE and Israel as two of India’s most important strategic partnerships in the world.

The strong political will and focus on the need for finding innovative solutions for developmental challenges faced by the three countries can become the catalyst for transitioning of the bilateral relations into a robust trilateral partnership between India, Israel and the UAE after Abraham Accords.

(The author is Fellow, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi. Views expressed here are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of MP-IDSA or the Government of India)