India moves to take advantage of Abraham Accords, joins Israel, UAE, US in new Quad

The virtual meeting between the four countries took place about a year after the Abraham Accord signed in Washington DC in September 2020
Last Updated 19 October 2021, 05:00 IST

India on Monday joined Israel, United Arab Emirates and the United States to launch a new quadrilateral consultation for expanding economic and political cooperation in West Asia, in addition to step energy and maritime security cooperation.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid joined the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and the UAE Foreign Minister, Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in a video conference.

The virtual meeting took place about a year after the Abraham Accords were signed in Washington D.C. in September 2020 started the process of normalization of relations between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi and thus opened up a new opportunity for India to go for deeper engagement with Israel without risking its relations with the UAE and the other Arab states of the Persian Gulf.

Jaishankar later called the video conference with his counterparts in Israel, the UAE and the US “a fruitful first meeting”, thus indicating that it was not a one-off consultation and the four nations would continue to remain engaged in the quadrilateral format. He tweeted that the virtual meeting ended with all sides agreeing on “expeditious follow-up” to the discussion they had on “working together more closely on economic growth and global issues”.

Ned Price, the spokesperson of the US State Department, said that the four sides had discussed “expanding economic and political cooperation in the Middle East and Asia, including through trade, combating climate change, energy cooperation, and increasing maritime security”. They also discussed people to people ties in technology and science and ways to support global public health in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. Blinken reiterated the support of US President Joe Biden’s administration support for the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements and discussed future opportunities for collaboration in the region and globally.

The Abraham Accords are the pacts Israel inked with Bahrain and the UAE in September 2020. Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump’s administration played a key role in getting the agreements signed and thus setting in motion the process of normalization of Israel’s relations with the UAE and Bahrain. India welcomed the Abraham Accords, stating that it always supported peace and stability in West Asia – a region, which it considered as its “extended neighbourhood”.

India-Israel cooperation in counterterrorism and defence sectors widened over the past few years. Israel has been one of the largest suppliers of military hardware to India. India’s energy and economic ties with the UAE also expanded significantly. The UAE has also been quietly mediating between India and Pakistan and facilitated back-channel talks between the two neighbours last year.

With the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul giving Pakistan a strategic edge over India in Afghanistan, New Delhi is now keen to take advantage of the Abraham Accords, which has given India flexibility to expand its strategic partnerships with Israel as well as the UAE and the other nations in the Gulf, like Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain.

A source in New Delhi said that India was confident about balancing its ties with Iran and Israel too. Jaishankar had two back-to-back visits to Tehran in July and August and extended an invitation on behalf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for an early visit to India.

The virtual meeting Jaishankar had with Blinken, Lapid and Zayed was the second quadrilateral consultation with participation of India and the US, which in 2017 had also re-launched another four-nation coalition with Japan and Australia, primarily to build a coalition of democracies to counter communist China’s expansionist aspirations in the Indo-Pacific region. Modi last month joined Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and then Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga for the first in-person summit of the ‘quad’ in Washington D.C.

Jaishankar and Lapid earlier had a bilateral meeting in Jerusalem. They agreed to relaunch the negotiations for the India-Israel Free Trade Agreement from next month.

Lapid agreed with Jaishankar to allow travellers inoculated with the Covid-19 Covishield vaccines in India to travel to Israel without any hassle. New Delhi also agreed to recognize the vaccination certificates issued by the Government of Israel while allowing travellers from the West Asian Jewish nation to travel to India.

“Our bilateral relations have been on a qualitatively different trajectory in the last few years,” said Jaishankar, who is currently on a visit to Israel. “Our two countries (India and Israel) share values of democracy and pluralism. We also share some of our guiding civilizational philosophies: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam in India, or the world is one family, and Tikun Olam in Israel, or heal the world,” the External Affairs Minister said during an interaction with Indologists and the representatives of the Indian Jewish community of Israel.

“We (India and Israel) also share similar challenges to our society from radicalism and terrorism, apart from many other emerging developments on the geopolitical landscape.”

Modi’s visit to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in July 2017 was the first by a Prime Minister of India to Israel. It de-linked India’s relations with Israel and Palestine.

Indian dignitaries visiting Israel in the past had made it a point to visit Palestine too. The then President Pranab Mukherjee had visited both Israel and Palestine in October 2015. The then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, too had visited Palestine after touring Israel in January 2016, just as one of her predecessors, S M Krishna, had done in October 2012. India was the first non-Arab country to recognise Palestine way back in 1988. But New Delhi's growing ties with Israel after the BJP's ascent to power in May 2014 fuelled speculation about India reviewing its position on Palestine.

The Modi government, however, made it clear that while India would continue to support the cause of Palestine, it would also seek to build stronger ties with Israel. New Delhi also played host to the then Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January 2018.

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(Published 18 October 2021, 18:14 IST)

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