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The beginning and objectives
In October 2021, foreign minister S Jaishankar sat with his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid in Jerusalem, creating the ‘West Asia Quad’ with Anthony Blinken and Abdullah bin Zayed on a screen. Nine months later, Joe Biden is sitting with Yair Lapid, now prime minister of Israel, with Narendra Modi and Mohammed bin Zayed in technological proximity, teeing off the first summit of the same Quad, snazzily renamed ‘I2U2’. A smoother congruence of interests The new Quad on the block has had a shorter run-up than the original Indo-Pacific. Largely because India and the US, common to both, have been building their own “habits of cooperation”, navigating obstacles much more skilfully than before. In addition, neither Israel nor UAE needed as much convincing as Japan and Australia did. But it’s more than that. The four countries in question are bilateral strategic partners in and of themselves. The India-Israel partnership is of jaw-dropping depth and breadth. The India-UAE relationship, rescued from a rut by the Modi government, has been given a 21st-century makeover and now one of India’s most consequential. The US is the “sutradhaar” in this Quad. In many ways, the other three countries will keep the US real and grounded. Presenting 21st-century opportunities The six focus areas of water, energy, transportation, space, health and food security are all contemporary concerns and opportunities. India, UAE and Israel are already in interlocking partnerships in all of these areas, so bringing them together on a single platform makes a lot of sense.
● Connectivity: The I2U2’s emphasis on connectivity, transportation and a ‘food corridor’ should enable movement of critical supply chains seamlessly across South Asia, Gulf and Middle East all the way to the Mediterranean and southern Europe. One simple example is the Etihad Rail project that promises to link all of the Gulf with its partners by 2030. That could open up more than one market for India.
● Standards and benchmarks: Foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra, briefing journalists after the summit on Thursday, said the new Quad will not only work to “reduce trade barriers, but also harmonise standards and benchmarks” for production and trade. That’s important for Indian agri exports, which suffer at the hands of phytosanitary devils. But on a larger canvas, the setting of rules and benchmarks is a big component of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) signed just a couple of months ago. From technology to food and finance, these new plurilateral arrangements are bringing middle powers together to the new rules-making table.
● Regional integration: India is hoping to make the most of the opportunities created by the Abraham Accords. As US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said, “Just as the United States can play a critical and central role in helping deepen Israel’s integration into the region, India has a role to play in that as well. ”
● Strategic quotient: The region brings together the world’s biggest stakeholders, and, for the first time in decades, the Middle East is not the source of the latest global problem. In fact, this could be a unique moment in history to stitch a new narrative for the region. It’s time for India to throw off its own “hesitations of history” and step out of the closet for a larger role in the region. In the more medium term, India might want to consider bringing Iran into the tent. Perhaps even Russia. The China factor For everyone who believes China is not a factor in the I2U2, consider the evidence. Coinciding with the summit, Adani Ports and Gadot of Israel together won the bid to buy the Haifa Port. Its significance is explained by the fact that in October 2021, Israel sold the operating rights of the Bay Port at Haifa to a Chinese company. This faced huge pushback from the US, because within weeks, reports appeared that the Chinese were building a secret military facility in a port near Abu Dhabi in the UAE, which had to be shut down. The Gulf and Middle East regard China with much less suspicion than does the US or India. But with the US-China rivalry deepening and countries like India, with their own problems with China stepping up with their concerns, others are being compelled to make their choices. India made its own, and is currently scrubbing China out of many parts of its economy. Biden has not reversed the China moves Trump started, US-China tensions have only deepened after the Ukraine war. Israel consequently is slowly cooling off on Chinese investment in tech, particularly after its closest partners said they were worried. On the other hand, Russia would be less concerned about the I2U2 than it is about the Indo-Pacific Quad. Three of the four members have normal relations with Moscow and have resisted US pressure to apply sanctions on Russia. If Moscow ever wants to balance its dependence on China, this might be a good place to start. The writer is CEO, Ananta Centre.