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External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s visit to Israel signifies the burgeoning Indo-Israeli relations. The fact that it is a five-day visit (October 17-21) underlines the expanse of bilateral ties that have flourished in recent years to include unconventional areas like agriculture, irrigation, science and technology, cybersecurity, river cleaning and above all healthcare. Besides the bilateral engagement, the EAM held a virtual quadrilateral meeting with foreign ministers of Israel, the United States and the United Arab Emirates. This is indeed a significant development for the four ministers who emphasized on the need for better coordination and cooperation among these nations for improving the quality of life of its people. Among the important issues that were discussed were to improve business opportunities and the need to work towards combating climate change and cooperation in areas such as renewable energy and fighting environmental degradation.

It is important because of a variety of reasons. Firstly, this signifies that India is ready to be incorporated into the Abraham Accords framework which is significant for India’s engagement with the Middle East. A number of analysts and scholars have, since the announcement of the Abraham Accords by the Trump administration in August 2020, underlined the opportunities it offers for India, both in terms of improving its multilateral engagement with Israel and the UAE, both important regional partners for India. The fact that these two are among the leading regional countries in terms of their ability to harness capital and technology for development was underlined as an important attraction for India which under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has seen a greater push for economic growth and improving business climate through external partnerships.

Besides, there is another important factor, that is connectivity for trade and business. New Delhi has in recent years emphasized on developing relations with the Gulf and West Asian countries to enhance economic cooperation. However, one of the lacunae is the problem with regard to connectivity to go beyond the Gulf. With the change in the regional strategic environment after the signing of the Abraham Accords, the political barriers for developing a seamless connectivity from India to the Mediterranean through the Gulf and Levant is no longer a problem. With the Indian participation, the incentive for UAE and Israel to improve trade and connectivity enhances manifold not only because of the scale of the Indian market but also because India can be a binding force for other regional countries, such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, to join hands and work for better connectivity.

Finally, there is strategic significance to the meeting. At a time, when the global order is going through a phase of transition and Washington is looking to reduce its commitments in the Gulf and West Asia, and China and Russia are seen as the only viable alternative, India’s greater engagements in the region offers an opportunity for the regional actors to look beyond Moscow and Beijing. The fact that India has traditional strong relations with the regional countries and that the US is willing to be part of a multilateral process underlines the strategic possibilities it offers.

The first quadrilateral meeting between India, Israel, UAE and the US on the occasion of Dr. Jaishankar’s visit to Israel underlines the shifting strategic landscape in West Asia and signifies a new momentum in India’s policy towards the region.

Note:  This article was originally published in Financial Express on 19 October 2021 and has been reproduced with the permission of the author. Web Link

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