The recent meeting between the United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar in New Delhi was a reminder not just of the close bonds between India and the UAE but a demonstration of how far the I2U2 grouping – comprising India, Israel, the UAE, and the United States – has come in one year.
What analysts have referred to as the “West Asia Quad” was launched in October 2021 with much less fanfare than what accompanied the Indo-Pacific Quad – a grouping of Australia, Japan, India, and the United States. Within six months, however, the new grouping was dubbed I2U2 (for Israel and India, and U.S. and UAE) and had given rise to a free trade agreement between India and the UAE. Multiple cooperative arrangements among the group’s countries followed.
I2U2 might be one of the most robust “minilateral” groupings on the world stage. Minilaterals are partnerships between like-minded nations, which are currently proving to be more effective in international diplomacy than much larger multilateral arrangements.
In May of this year, India and the UAE signed a free trade agreement. A similar free trade deal already exists between Israel and the UAE while one between India and Israel is currently in the pipeline. In September, the commander of UAE’s Air Force visited India accompanied by a delegation from EDGE, a UAE state-owned advanced defense technology conglomeration.
The I2U2 also held its first leaders’ level summit within nine months of its formation. In July, U.S President Joe Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the UAE’s Sheikh Muhammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan held a virtual meeting during Biden’s trip to Israel. The summit stated that the four countries would work together to deal with global challenges, especially in the fields of “water, energy, transportation, space, health, and food security.”
The first two projects announced during the July summit were on food security and clean energy. For the first, the UAE offered to invest $2 billion in India to build integrated food parks “to reduce food waste and spoilage, conserve fresh water, and employ renewable energy sources.” The American and Israeli private sectors would contribute their technological expertise. For the second initiative, the three countries would invest in building a hybrid renewable energy project in India.
The UAE foreign minister’s recent visit to India resulted in a substantive agreement on food security. It also bolstered the existing economic partnership, along with plans for space cooperation, and the burgeoning defense relationship. Both the UAE and India have indicated that they would like to expand the India-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement to include other countries as well.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed’s recent visit to India follows the visit in October of a delegation by ADQ, an Abu Dhabi based sovereign wealth fund that is the key investor in the food security project.
The UAE is already one of India’s top trading partners, but the recent free trade agreement has boosted trade between the two countries by over 38 percent. Bilateral trade totaled $73 billion in 2021 and rose to $88 billion in 2022.
The I2U2 has been brought together by shared interests and complementary capabilities. The U.S. brings its convening power and military prowess to the table. Israel, India, and the UAE can make significant contributions to each other’s security or economy.
At a time when the U.S. is seeking to wean India away from dependence on Russian defense equipment, the I2U2 partnership has unique advantages. The UAE can help address India’s concerns about oil security by contributing to India’s strategic oil reserves. This would help ensure that as India seeks dependable supply of energy, it turns to the Gulf, not Russia.
Similarly, Israel is one of the top three suppliers of defense equipment to India. Some 43 percent of Israel’s arms exports are currently sold to India. Israel exports agricultural technology, cyber technology, healthcare technology, and defense equipment to India while India sells mineral products, machinery, and textiles to India.
The four countries share complementary capabilities in a region of the world – the Middle East – which is critical to American national security and economic interests. Israel’s military-intelligence expertise and economic and technological prowess partners well with India’s ability to provide access to a populous market and supply manpower to the region’s growing economies.
The UAE’s firm commitment to the Abraham Accords has placed it in the unique position to influence Israel in protecting Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, while at the same time being a steadfast Muslim opponent of radical Islamist extremism. India, home to the second largest Muslim population in the world and a victim of terrorism, seems to appreciate Israeli and Emirati support.
At a time when the U.S. seeks to prevent Chinese global preeminence, Washington is wary of closer economic and technological ties between China and both Israel and the UAE. Here, India’s close economic ties with these countries help. For example, in September, the Indian company Adani, in collaboration with an Israeli company, won the bid to privatize Israel’s Haifa port, which was previously expected to be run by the Chinese. The I2U2 grouping makes such arrangements possible.