The formation of the new I2U2 grouping is a significant development where India’s partnership can prove to be a “game changer”, a former Israeli National Security Adviser has said ahead of the forum’s first high-level meeting which Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend virtually on Thursday.

The I2U2 – comprising India, Israel, the UAE and the US – was established in October 2021 following an initiative by the four countries’ foreign ministers as part of External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s visit to Israel.

In a virtual conference, the four foreign ministers agreed to utilise complementary capabilities to fulfil overlapping interests, thus bolstering cooperation and strengthening the strategic partnership between the new Quad partners.

As Israel prepares to welcome US President Joe Biden on Wednesday in a packed three-day programme that includes a high-level meeting of the new I2U2 forum in which Prime Minister Modi would participate virtually, Israel’s former National Security Adviser, Maj Gen Yaakov Amidror told PTI that “India can also help to enhance and expand the scope of Abraham accords bringing in new countries”.

“It has the ability to push others by saying that it is in the interest of the world,” said Amidror, who continues to be active with several think-tanks.

Amid the building excitement around Biden’s trip to the region during which Israel and the United States are expected to declare a “strategic partnership”, including a joint commitment to foil Iran’s nuclear ambitions using “all elements of national power”, the discussion of I2U2 leaders has received wide attention.

Experts believe that it has the potential to build on the Abraham accords to expand regional partnership beyond the Middle East, specifically on energy, tech and economic issues. The stated purpose of the meeting of the I2U2 forum, also dubbed the new Quad, is to discuss “the food security crisis and other areas of cooperation across hemispheres”.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Biden in Jerusalem will be joined virtually by Prime Minister Modi and United Arab Emirates President Mohamed bin Zayed on Thursday afternoon for the discussions.

The leaders’ remarks at the start of the event will be broadcast live, an official release said on Tuesday.

“Trade, where Israel can serve as a bridge, agriculture, food security and sophisticated technology are likely to prominently figure in the talks”, Amidror said.

The former Israeli NSA said that Biden’s visit will definitely help build a positive momentum among Arab states looking to normalise ties with Israel and also nudge several others who are part of the “under the table crowded scene”.

With the Russian-Ukrainian war posing new challenges in the energy market in Europe and in the Middle East, Amidror said that Greece, Cyprus and Israel working together on natural gas pipeline projects can be an important development also in the context of the I2U2 discussions.

“Add India to this new situation, where Israel is a bridge with Europe and India another big trading partner in the whole context – it will be a game changer”, he noted.

The European Union, as per reports, aims to cut its reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds this year and end all Russian fossil fuel imports by 2027 due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Cyprus, Greece and Israel have agreed to build the world’s longest and deepest underwater power cable that will traverse the Mediterranean seabed and link their electricity grids.

Dr. Oshrit Birvadker, a lecturer at IDC Herzliya and a research fellow at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, who is a foreign policy expert specialising in India, feels that one of the most important goals of Biden’s visit, apart from helping to balance global oil prices and lowering US inflation ahead of the upcoming congressional elections, is to strengthen the United States’ strategic alliances in the region.

“This is a direct continuation of what previous Presidents like Obama and Trump did. It is a bit reminiscent of earlier times when the United States formed identical alliances during the Cold War,” Oshrit said.

“The I2U2 is one of many strategies designed to demonstrate the return of the American leadership to the global arena by connecting countries with common interests. The US administration sees China as a rival and tries to deal with its activities in various ways,” she points out.

“The US is concerned with the growing Chinese presence in the Middle East, not to mention signing a 25-year strategic partnership agreement in March 2021 (with Iran) which will give Beijing a military foothold in the region. One way (of dealing with it) is, of course, to strengthen the strategic alliances”, Oshrit added.

Several prominent commentators in the Israeli media have also pointed out that the alliance is an effort to counter China’s growing influence and foil Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Even though the forum has been touted as an economic alliance they argue that it goes hand in hand with politics and there is a major political agenda behind the grouping. Amidror points out in the context that India cannot be a part of a security alliance given its traditional ties with Iran, but it does not stop it from being a strong economic partner.

“Economic means political. This is the U.S way of dealing with its interest in the middle east and the Indian pacific by cooperating with countries who share the same vision.

“A small group of this kind may push for one of the critical economic corridors, the Arab-Mediterranean corridor, which will maximize the potential and profit of any country taking part in it. For India, we know it is a net profit, mainly because of the complexity and instability presented by the INSTC path,” Oshrit said.

The momentum of such a corridor strengthens India against China in competition for connectivity and is a strategic advantage for Washington. And today it is very clear that a strong India is ideal for America, she said.

“Besides, by working together these countries could have the potential to prevent the global food crisis, affect food prices, keep inflation low and stabilise economies. We are all aware of the evidence of the interaction between changes in global food prices and political instability,”, she added.

Lev Aran, a former coordinator of the Israel-India Parliamentary Friendship League and a columnist for several publications, sees India’s participation in the I2U2 forum as a “final verdict” on the doubters who do not see much of a change in India’s policy towards Israel and in the Middle East in general.

“It is for me the final verdict on those voices that call not to make a big deal out of this growing closeness as nothing has fundamentally changed and sides continue to play the balancing role.

“Something fundamental has changed here which marks a transition in India’s policy in the Middle East and I do not think that future change in governments in India would lead to backtracking in the major strides taken over the last several years”, Aran said.

He said most of the policymakers have slowly understood that the Palestinian issue is not the key issue in the region but a local one that the two sides have to deal with and sort out directly.

Aran also sees the I2U2 forum as a part of a new profound axis which is very much a political alliance in nature as well, beyond its economic utility.

“I don’t think people in Tehran see it as a part of commercial cooperation. They won’t buy into this argument,” he said.

The US had earlier set up the Quad, the Asian Pacific Quad, with the US, Australia, India and Japan which is also seen by many as a forum to counter Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

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