4 key shifts in India’s Middle East Diplomacy

News Excerpt:

India’s quick call for de-escalation in the aftermath of Iran’s retaliatory strike against Israel stands in contrast to Delhi’s instant expression of solidarity with Israel at the highest political level immediately after the recent terror attack by Hamas.

That contrast highlights four broad transitions in India’s engagement with the region:

  • First, the call for regional restraint underlines the difference between responding to the brutality of a non-state actor’s terrorism and a conflict between two major state actors locked in a long-standing regional rivalry.
    • India’s stakes in the bilateral relationships with both Iran and Israel are huge, and it has never been a question of choosing between them.
    • If India were seen as taking “Israel’s side” on the Hamas attack, its position on Iran’s recent attack against Israel urging restraint would be viewed as “balanced” and in favour of regional peace.
  • Second, India’s call for de-escalation between Israel and Iran is about recognising the complexity of the region’s politics. 
    • In the past, India’s regional policy was framed in terms of contradictions between the West and the Middle East. Now, India pays attention to the region’s internal contradictions.
    • Inter-state and intra-state conflicts in the Middle East are deep and pervasive, and India will have to balance forever its engagement with key regional actors — Egypt, Iran, Israel, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — whose orientation and interests are different and often in conflict.
  • Third, India’s call for de-escalation also underlines that religion can’t be the dominant factor in dealing with the Middle East.
  • Fourth, non-ideological engagement with the region complements India’s expanding interests in the Middle East. 
    • India’s interests in the region are no longer limited to oil imports and labour exports.
    • The Gulf Arab states—especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—have emerged as India's major economic and political partners.
    • The Gulf Arab partnerships transcend the bilateral and have acquired a regional character in the wider Indian Ocean littoral. 
      • They are also critical in the realisation of the India Middle East Europe Corridor (IMEC), which is now at the top of India’s trans-regional agenda.
    • On its part, Iran has long been vital in shaping India’s relations with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.

Way Forward:

The Middle-East is a demanding region, and dealing with it is not for the simple-minded or the faint-hearted. As a large neighbour with growing stakes in the Middle-East, India is fast learning to navigate the region’s unending conflict.

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