The virtual meeting of the leaders of India, Israel, the US, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as part of a new partnership known as I2U2, reflects opportunities and challenges for India.

Background

  • I2U2 straddles a major regional fault-line and marks an important signalling exercise by all four countries.
  • Reflecting the latest détente via the US-mediated Abraham Accords, which seek to normalise ties between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco after decades, it offers India a chance to broaden and deepen the already cordial political and economic relations with Israel and the UAE and balance them with other countries in the Gulf with its sizeable Indian diaspora.

What has been achieved?

  • The grouping has chalked out six areas of cooperation for joint investment in water, energy, transportation, space, health, and food security.
  • India has reaped early benefits with the UAE announcing a $2 billion investment to develop food parks in the country.
  • The grouping also committed to investing in a 300 Mw hybrid (wind and solar) renewable energy project in Gujarat.

So, is it beneficial for India?

  • In its initial iteration, then, I2U2 appears to align closely with the Indian broad policy goals.
  • Similar group commitments to health, water, and transportation have the potential to enhance basic physical and social infrastructure —collaboration between Israel and India on drip irrigation projects in Gujarat has demonstrated the value of such ties.

What is the issue then?

  • The challenge, though, could lie in balancing India’s geopolitical equilibrium with those of its three partners. It is no secret, for instance, that Israel views I2U2 as a step towards augmenting opposition to Iran. This could have a bearing on the enduring and cordial relations between New Delhi and Tehran.
  • So far, Tehran has not seen closer bilateral ties between India and Israel or India’s engagement with the US in the Indo-Pacific as an obstacle to its own ties with New Delhi.
  • The I2U2 grouping raises these relationships to a strategic level and, as such, could complicate the Indo-Iranian dynamic. It remains a potential challenge for India as I2U2 evolves.

Labelling of ‘West Asian Quad’

  • To be sure, I2U2 has not yet acquired a security dimension but the possibility of such a transition is high, a development that raises critical strategic questions vis-à-vis China.
  • The US has made it clear that it views I2U2 as a complement to its China-centred security initiatives in the Indo-Pacific, principally via the four-nation Quad (US, India, Australia, and Japan), and it is evident in the references to I2U2 as a “western Asian Quad” by the UAE and US commentators.
  • Though the nature of I2U2 is different from the overt military collaboration of the Quad, it is worth recalling that the latter started as a joint response to the devastation in the region caused by the Tsunami in 2004. I2U2’s evolution in a similar manner could present a dual US-led challenge to China.

Way forward

Beijing is yet to respond formally to I2U2 but it is unlikely to remain a passive onlooker since China is a major player in the region (especially UAE). Given the tensions between New Delhi and Beijing, recently deepened by investigations by Indian agencies of Chinese companies in India, it would be in India’s interests to downplay the idea of a West Asian Quad and focus on the collaborations that will enhance the country’s developmental needs.

SourceBusiness Standard

QUESTION – The recently concluded I2U2 is a tightrope walk for India because it comes with several opportunities while opening up new strategic vulnerabilities. How? Comment.