Middle east churn: New Delhi should facilitate Arab states’ rapprochement with Israel

Last week’s announcement of a deal between the UAE and Israel normalising their ties exemplifies the wider churn taking place in the Arab world. The US – which was the hand holder for this deal – is confident that other Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, will follow suit. That UAE has managed to get Israel to promise to freeze its plans to annex the Palestinian areas of the occupied West Bank gives Abu Dhabi a lot of moral leverage. After all, it’s the Israel-Palestine conflict that has kept the Jewish state and Arab nations at arm’s length.

However, there are fundamental socio-economic and political shifts underway. First, there is greater appreciation of the threat posed by radical Sunni extremism to the Arab states themselves. The rise of the Islamic State terror group clearly showed this. Second, the Arab states are trying to reorient their economic fundamentals as they know the days of petrodollar fuelled subsidies are over. This means they need to invest in technology and new economic avenues. And Israel is a leader in technology in West Asia.

Third, the Sunni Arab states perceive Shia Iran as a direct challenge to their regional standing. Add to this a revisionist Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who dreams of resurrecting the Ottoman domination over the Arab world. In fact, the new realignment sees Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and China coordinating their strategic moves in the Middle East. But there are clear contradictions in this alliance – while it tries to highlight the Kashmir issue, it remains silent on the treatment of Uighur Muslims in China. India, which has a huge diaspora in the Arab states, should naturally side with its Arab partners. After all, cooperation on tackling radical Sunni terrorism and the potential of collaboration in tech-driven sectors have already brought New Delhi and Arab capitals closer in the last six years. And any distance between the Arab states and Pakistan is good news for India.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.