By Kashif Anwar
The recent virtual summit held between India, Israel, the UAE and the US established the I2U2 to address the concern in West Asia and the Western Indian Ocean (WIO). The I2U2 results from the ‘International Forum for Economic Cooperation’ held in October 2021. The I2U2, referred to as the ‘West Asian QUAD’, focuses on marine security, infrastructure and transportation. The development of the I2U2 is seen as a means to undo Trump’s policy towards the Middle East under the Biden Administration, as China, Iran, and Russia have expanded their influence in the region. Although the I2U2 lacks a military angle and focuses on the economy, the summit addresses the energy and food security issues which emerged due to the Ukraine-Russian conflict.
Unlike QUAD and the AUKUS, the I2U2 is an economic group which focuses on six key areas of cooperation, i.e. health, water, transportation, food security, space and energy. Along with a strong US-Israel relationship, the Abraham Accord – welcomed by development – and the recent Negev Forum improved the relationship between Israel and Arab countries. On the other hand, the I2U2 revitalised the US alliance system in the Middle East and further secured its position in the Indo-Pacific region. Therefore, the inclusion of India into the I2U2 was seen as a welcome move which strengthenedIndia’s position in West Asia; on the other hand, the US viewed India as a strategic, reliable and development partner needed in West Asia.
The I2U2 and its Key Highlight
As the I2U2 initially formed as the ‘International Forum for Economic Cooperation in October 2021 to look towards West Asia and the Western Indian Ocean from an economic angle, it further helped the US revitalise the US alliance system in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the group formed to tap the ‘unique array of capabilities, knowledge and experience’ of all four members of the I2U2. Although the I2U2is referred to as West Asian QUAD, it isn’t similar to QUAD as it focuses on an economy instead military angle. With changing geopolitics in the Middle East and the WIO due to China, Iran and Russia, it pushed regional powers like Israel and outside powers like India and the US to secure their geostrategic concerns. The Abraham Accord, the Negev Forum, and now the I2U2 give the UAE an advantage in the Persian Gulf. On the other hand, such developments improved Israel’s relationship with the Arab world and enhanced India’s role in the region’s geopolitics.
At the virtual summit, India’s PM Narendra Modi argues, “our cooperative framework is a good model for practical cooperation in the face of increasing global uncertainties”. He reiterated that all members of the I2U2 agreed upon key sectors for joint projects for which a roadmap has been prepared. Meanwhile, the summit’s leaders stress cooperation among like-minded countries and I2U2 members; Israel PM Lapid argues there is a need to develop a better world. To address food insecurity in the Middle East and South Asia, the UAE pledged to invest US$ 2 billion across India to develop integrated food parks where private companies from the US and Israel will assist and provide their expertise and innovative solutions to the project.
In the context of the energy sector, a hybrid energy project will be established in Gujrat with 300 megawatts of solar and wind capacity and battery energy storage system. Further, the US and Israel will work with India and the UAE to highlight private sector opportunities in the sector. Such cooperation would help India to achieve its 2030 target of 500 GW of non-fossil fuel capacity. Israel, the US and the UAE welcomed India’s initiative to join the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate Initiative (AIM for Climate); such acts enhance cooperation among the I2U2 members.
India’s role in the I2U2
As the group connect West Asia and South Asia with the Pacific Ocean, each members are bound to enjoy benefits from the I2U2. For the US, the group will allow them to expand and restore their partnership in the Middle East and further undo Trump’s policy towards the region. On the other hand, for the UAE, it enhances its position in the region’s geopolitics and assists them in getting an edge in the Persian Gulf, a vital maritime route for oil transit. In the context of Israel, in addition to the Abraham Accord and the recent Negev Forum, the I2U2 will improve Israel’s ties with the Arab world. Recently improved relations between India and Israel, India would help Israel to bridge the difference between Israel and Arab countries.
Since the Arab Spring in 2011, and the geopolitical developments in the Middle East region, India has always supported peace and stability in the region. For India, as it has enjoyed a strong relationship with West Asia since the Indus Civilisation, India sees the region as its extended neighbourhood, which occupies significance in its strategic framework toward the Middle East region.Among the West Asian countries, as India enjoys a good reputation, it became a natural choice for the US to include India as a key member of the I2U2 in its outreach policy toward West Asian countries. Considering India’s position in West Asia, former Israeli NSA Major General Yaakov Amidrov’s statement becomes important as he argues India’s inclusion in the group is a game changer.
Over the years, India kept a safe distance from the Middle East geopolitics to ensure its bilateral relationship with West Asian countries remains secure. Being an odd one, under the I2U2, it allows India to engage deeply in West Asia’s geo-economics and strengthen its trade relations with the Middle East countries. For the I2U2, India is a valuable market because of its massive consumer market and availability of production facilities for high-tech and highly sought-after goods. Meanwhile, the I2U2 gives India political, economic and social advantages; it will assist India to deepen its relationship with the Arab countries and Israel. After QUAD, India’s inclusion in the I2U2 strengthens its global position. Such developments align India with other major powers like Russia, Europe and China to address its national and regional concerns strategically.
The development of the I2U2 could be seen as a series of strategic initiatives taken by the US along with its allies, partner and friends to revive its alliance system and strengthen its position in the Indo-Pacific region. The inclusion of India in QUAD and now in the I2U2 reflects the growing significance of India on the global stage as a key player. As a result of the Ukraine-Russia energy and food security crisis, it pushes countries worldwide to secure sources of energy and food security. Under its energy and food security, the I2U2 addresses the strategic Strait of Hormuz and plans to develop integrated food parks in India to secure food insecurity in South and West Asia. PM Modi argues that with growing uncertainties worldwide, today, the world needs a good model for practical cooperation, and such a situation requires India to provide a valuable contribution to the global economy
(The author is Research Associate, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).