Introduction: What is Abraham Accord?
On August 13, 2020, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and Israel reached a statement together called the Abraham Accords. This was immediately followed by the same agreement reached by Bahrain with Israel.
As per the deal, the UAE has formally recognised Israel, whereas Israel agreed to stop annexing parts of the West Bank. This is an important moment in the conflict-ridden history of west Asia as it is the first Arab Israeli deal in 26 years. The first Arab country to start relations with Israel was Egypt in 1991, followed by Jordan in 1994. Although the accord is officially called Abraham Accords Peace Agreement, UAE and Bahrain were never at war with Israel like Egypt and Jordon did.
The accord dramatically changes the power structure in the West Asian region. The agreement should be seen in the light of the formation of a collective security structure against Iran and a balancing act by the USA against China’s growing visibility in the middle east (Iran and China signed a 25-year deal on 5 July 2020). Although Saudi Arabia has not come forward to sign any such accord, it is being said that a small nation like Bahrain would have never taken such a step without its nod.
India and the Accords
To understand India’s stakes in the current development, one should start with India’s interest in the region. Stephan Cohen enumerates the factors that steer the Indian policy in West Asia. First, India’s reliance on West Asian oil and gas leaves it with no option but to maintain cordial relations with the major suppliers. New Delhi doesn’t want to be ‘vulnerable to temporary cut-off or increase in prices’, nor can it depend on Pakistan for a pipeline service from central Asia. The second factor he mentions is India being home to a sizeable Muslim population, making it essential for Indian politicians to take careful steps in foreign policy toward West Asia lest it impacts domestic politics. A third significant factor is Kashmir. India wants a cordial relationship with the major Muslim countries to keep them from intervening in the Kashmir issue and supporting Pakistan. Cohen describes this as a ‘sophisticated balance-of-power diplomacy, hoping to counter Pakistani influence in the Gulf and to keep Kashmir out of all discussions ’. The fourth factor is India’s growing ties with Israel in technology, intelligence, and defence which, according to Cohen, has made India more influential in the USA. This puts India into the perpetual act of balancing between Arabs and Israelis in West Asia. And lastly, he mentions that India doesn’t want to be on the opposite side of America’s regional nuclear policies, even though Indian strategists do not necessarily agree with America’s nuclear nonproliferation (Cohen, 2005).
The 1990s détente between Israel and the two Arab nations, Egypt and Jordon, did not have any significant impact on India, but today India has a strong and multifaceted presence in West Asia which includes the diaspora, the annual merchandise trade, oil, and investments. Moreover, in the realm of continuity and change, Indian foreign policy has witnessed a substantial engagement with West Asian countries. The current government has enthusiastically engaged with Israel and simultaneously frequented the engagements with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, ‘discovering that the Gulf states were more practical than ideological ’.
So, the paramount significance of the Abraham Accord is the relief it brings to the Indian policy-makers who have earlier only taken small careful steps, focusing more on balancing between the Arabs and Israel in the region. With India-UAE relations being elevated to the level of strategic partnership and ever-deepening India-Israel cooperation, the accord comes with an opportunity for trilateral cooperation in numerous fields where all three can synergise their resources and potentials. The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between India and UAE, the ongoing talks of FTA between India and Israel, and the FTA between UAE and Israel can give thrust to the trilateral economic cooperation between the three.
The trio faces many similar security issues in the region and with USA’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq and its receding influence, the three can and should come up with their security architecture. India and Israel already have well-placed defence mechanisms and the UAE is also keen on modernising its armed forces. This can be an opportunity for the three to start engagements in joint defence production, exercise and research. In addition, India will benefit from this development, even in counterterrorism and fighting against radicalism.
The significant development after the signing of the accord was the formation of the so-called Middle-Eastern Quad, which has evolved into ‘I2U2’, a working group of foreign ministers of India, Israel, the UAE and the USA focused more on economic than strategic issues. This quad is majorly seen as a mark of growing convergence in India’s and the USA’s interests, just like the Indo-Pacific Quad, which was formed to balance China’s rise in the region. In fact, in some quarters, it is also called Indo-Abrahamic Accords because adding ‘Indo’ is the new and unexpected approach of the US to strengthen its place in the region. Moreover, New Delhi, which used to be apprehensive of most American policies, has now become an enthusiastic partner. According to C. Raja Mohan, ‘the new Middle East quad is in many ways a culmination of India’s greater foreign-policy pragmatism’. It highlights the shedding of ideological obsession by New Delhi, which would not have been possible with the Abraham Accords. C Raja Mohan sees potential in the ‘synergy among the Indian market, Emirati capital, Israeli technology, and U.S. geo-economic clout in the region’ (Mohan, 2021).
Although some scholars are a bit sceptical about the high assumptions from the Abraham accords, Israel-GCC ties might provoke new polarisation between the different militant groups giving rise to new proxy wars in the Gulf, especially between Iran and Israel. Hence, India would have to be on guard with its interests in the region. Another fear is that Israel may take over the service that India provides in the region and disrupt the existing politico-economic architecture that India has carefully built in the region (Sachdev, 2020).
The Abraham accords have provided India with the opportunity to reclaim its historical role that comes with its strategic location in the Indian Ocean along with its emerging economy. Moreover, a Quad in the east and a Quad in the west of India bring back the memory of the old when India formed the inevitable trading link between the ships coming from all directions.