By Shankar Kumar
New Delhi. In the political history of India, for the first time the External Affairs Minister spent five days in Israel. Though nearly three decades have passed when full diplomatic relations were established between the two countries, yet no high ranking minister from India ever made such a long stay in Israel. Narendra Modi, who made first ever prime ministerial visit to Israel in July 2017, spent a maximum three-day in the West Asian country. In that way, EAM Jaishankar’s Israel visit was a break from the past.
Yet this break was not merely in terms of visit, but in terms of political and diplomatic dimension too. As in response to robust China centric alignment with CRIPTAQ (China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and Qatar), India together with Israel, UAE and the US has formed a Quartet to counterbalance regional security architecture in the Gulf and the West Asian region.
With the US increasing its strategic weight in the Indo-Pacific region and Beijing finding Iran, and Turkey–both anti-US to the core—too ready to accept China as their close allies, the Xi Jinping administration in China in alliance with Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to gain strong foothold in West Asia. The US’ hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan and capture of the war-ravaged country by the Taliban have moreover, emboldened China to engage in a new geopolitical game in West Asia.
China has two-fold strategy in forming CRIPTAQ: First, expand the geo-economic Belt and Road Initiative and CPEC projects across Afghanistan into Iran and the Middle East region and second, enhance its political and diplomatic influence in the region with an aim to scuttle any chance of the ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement) and the Xinjiang-based-Uighur Muslims in getting any support from any quarter. In 2020, Washington DC had removed the ETIM from the US list of terrorist organizations amid allegations of China’s human rights violations against Uighur Muslims.
However, the coming together of India, Israel, UAE and the US, a major development witnessed during EAM S Jaishankar’s visit to Tel Aviv, has more to do with closer economic engagement, energy cooperation and security. But Israel’s Deputy Chief of Mission in India, Rony Yedidia-Clein had a different argument to offer in support of the new informal group. “I think it holds a lot of promise. India has a very constructive relationship with the UAE; it has a wonderful relationship with Israel. I think it also has a very, very good relationship with the United States as well. So why not bring everything together, for the good of the citizens of the four countries? And especially speaking of economics, here, I mean, we are talking about a very huge opportunity in trade and all the different fronts,” she said while speaking with the Hindu, adding the new group is not against China.
But the initiative is more than economic cooperation between India, Israel, UAE and the US and, this was explained in an unobtrusive manner by US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price. He said the US sees the initiative as an expansion of economic and political cooperation in the Middle-East and Asia, including through trade, combating climate change, energy cooperation, and increasing maritime security.
Obviously, there is more to this than meets the eye. India is a net security provider for its immediate and greater neighbourhood. Since China, after the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan, sees a new opportunity in expanding its geopolitical base from the landlocked country to the Middle-East, India would be a loser if no prompt move is taken to defend its turf in the Middle-East. However, forward action to foreign ministers’ level talks at India, Israel, UAE and the US will be taken after the joint working group, set up by the Quartet, gives a shape to discussions and decisions taken at the ministerial level.
Since trilateral cooperation between India, Israel and UAE on technology and robotics has already begun and, in days to come, this cooperation is expected to cover areas like economy, cyber security, counter terrorism, food, energy and maritime security too, the US’ participation with these countries are expected to infuse more dynamism.
Especially on the creation of supply chain resilience, all these four countries are on the same page. At the time when the pandemic taught the international community a lesson that over-reliance on China for products critical to national health and economics was a big mistake, India and like-minded countries would only harm their interests if they failed to do a course correction.
Diversifying manufacturing bases in different geographical locations and expanding port capacities are essentials for the success of a supply chain. Besides, the international community wants a supply chain which can quickly adjust to sudden disruptive changes that negatively affect supply chain performance.
And this is the reason, Israel, known for its innovative technology and India with a huge market base, want to come together with UAE and the US to add significance to their created supply chain to serve as an alternative to China on consumer goods or technological items used at household fronts. For several decades, China thrived on being the world factory for the goods that countries after countries sought for their consumption.
However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Only in days to come, will it be realized whether the new Quad formed by these four countries is of any substance or not. Driven by positive equations between them, the four countries made it clear that they entered into the Quadrilateral partnership for their own benefits as well as the region, creating a win-win situation for everyone.
Overall, Jaishankar’s maiden visit to Israel as India’s EAM was of high significance as it took place at the time when political and strategic realignment in the Middle-East are taking place with a fast pace in the wake of Israel signing Abraham Accord with two regional economic powerhouses—UAE and Bahrain. China looks at this with concern as this is a US-brokered realignment which has potential to impact on Beijing’s move to win over Sunni Muslims in its favour.
–The writer is a senior journalist with wide experience in covering international affairs. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda