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Naturally, there was already a degree of entanglement between India and the Middle Eastern nations. India and Israel were developing their military and technological relations. Travelling through the Persian Gulf region, it was impossible to miss the fact that many of the Gulf nations’ economies depended on the labour of temporary workers from the Indian state of Kerala. Additionally, India bought a lot of oil from the Middle East. However, after speaking with officials, diplomats, generals, and experts, it became clear to me that Indians were unwilling to take on a more significant role in the Middle East, he stated in the article.

He asserted, nevertheless, that he thought circumstances had changed and that India was now becoming a significant role in the Middle East.

But things have changed in the ten years since my trip. “Washington is ignoring one of the most interesting geopolitical developments in the region in years: the emergence of India as a major player in the Middle East,” Cook said. “While US officials and analysts are preoccupied with every diplomatic move Beijing makes and view Chinese investment in the Middle East with suspicion.

In terms of New Delhi’s contacts in the area, he continued, India-Israel ties are possibly the most developed.

India did recognise Israel in 1950, but full diplomatic relations between the two nations were not established until 1992. They have become closer since then, especially in recent years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the first head of state from India to visit Israel in 2017, and his Israeli counterpart did the same the year after.

Beyond the fanfare of these trips, he noted, India-Israeli ties have quickly grown in a number of industries, particularly high-tech and defence.

According to Cook, who cited the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Israel was one of India’s top three arms suppliers in 2021, and recent press reports from India suggest that the two nations are looking into the possibility of coproducing weaponry.

Due to Israel’s limited market and (to many in India) contentious politics, the Indian business community has historically avoided investing there as well, but this may be changing, he noted.

“In 2022, the Adani Group and an Israeli partner won a 1.2 billion USD tender for Haifa Port. A free trade agreement between India and Israel is also being negotiated. The connection between India and Israel is undoubtedly difficult. India continues to back the Palestinians unwaveringly, maintains cordial relations with Iran, from which New Delhi has acquired substantial quantities of oil, and Indian elites frequently view Israel through the lens of their own colonial history, the analyst continued.

Cook said that the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf were actively seeking ways to strengthen their ties with India. This is a significant shift because both nations, but especially the latter, have long sided with Pakistan.

“A common desire to curb Islamist radicalism is one reason for the shift to India, but a large part of the draw is economic. With 1.4 billion people living less than a four-hour flight away, the Emiratis and Saudis see opportunity. The outcomes thus far are favourable. “Non-oil trade between the UAE and India reached 45 billion USD in the first 11 months of the UAE-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which came into effect in May 2022, representing a nearly 7% increase over the prior year,” Cook wrote in his article.

He pointed out that I2U2, a coalition of Israel, India, the UAE, and the United States, is a driving force behind the relationships between India and the UAE. I2U2 aims to use the combined technological know-how and private capital to address alternative energy, agriculture, trade, infrastructure development, and other issues.

The second-largest oil and gas supplier to India, Saudi Arabia, also seeks to strengthen the energy partnership by incorporating renewable energy sources.

“The Indian news website reported in April that Riyadh and New Delhi were in talks over a plan to use underwater cables to connect India’s electricity grid to the kingdom (and the UAE). Although it is uncertain whether such a lofty project would ever materialise, those discussions show that the Saudi and Indian governments are searching for methods to increase the current 43 billion USD in trade between the two nations, he wrote in his article for Foreign Policy.

The author used PM Modi’s most recent state visit to Egypt as an example. This visit, which took place about six months after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was the guest of honour at India’s 74th Republic Day celebration—his third trip to New Delhi since taking office—was referred to as an episode in the ongoing Egyptian-Indian love fest.

“Trade between India and Egypt, valued at roughly 6 billion USD, is relatively low compared to that with Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. The Egyptian government is looking to India for assistance after their poor economic management led to a debt crisis and inflation of 30%. Due to Egypt’s lack of dollars, there is even talk of trading in rupees, the article continued.

Cook noted that Egypt’s numerous economic concerns are not the only factors influencing the developing relationship and that India also views Egypt as a conduit for exporting commodities to Africa and Europe.

For US politicians and observers, it can be easy to see India’s expanding regional influence through the lens of great-power rivalry with China. Playing the “India card” in the new grand game sounds smart from an abstract perspective, he wrote in his article.

The author noted that additional counterweight to Beijing in the Middle East would be beneficial as the Biden administration switches from downplaying the region to viewing it as an area of opportunity to contain China, citing the long-standing hostility, border disputes, and even armed conflicts between India and China.

“And Modi’s visit to Washington in late June was also a love fest, including a state dinner and address to a joint session of Congress,” he continued.

Nevertheless, the author claimed that it is “unlikely” that New Delhi wishes to be the strategic ally that Washington envisions, taking into account India’s historic ties to Russia and even its recent stance during Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“New Delhi has condemned the Russian invasion but has not voted to condemn Moscow in the United Nations and is a prodigious procurer of Russian arms and oil,” the author said.

The US should temper its expectations about what the rise of India’s economic and security connections to the Middle East means, he continued, noting that India sharply differs from the US and Israel on Iran.

The author wrote, “It is unlikely that India will stand with the United States, but it is also unlikely that New Delhi will challenge Washington as both Beijing and Moscow have done.”

The development of India’s position in the Middle East, he continued, “reflects the shifting international order and the willingness, perhaps even eagerness, of countries in the region to benefit from the new multipolarity.”

The author went on to say that it is preferable if New Delhi is one of the Middle Eastern allies of the US’s partners looking for an alternative to Washington.

“The United States may no longer be the undisputed big dog in the region, but neither Russia nor China can take on that role as long as India increases its presence in the Middle East,” he continued in the article.

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