FACTORS that shaped Geo-Politics of West Asia

  • Arab – Israel rivalry owing to the Post War history of creation of Jewish State Israel from the Arabic Palestinian territory.
  • Arab – Iran Rivalry which is based on the Shia – Sunni rivalry and is a race for regional hegemony amongst the Muslim world countries of the region.
  • Israel – Iran rivalry which started post the Iranian revolution of 1979 and has been escalating because of Iran’s Nuclear Program.

Great Game

  • Presence of US, Russia and China further complicate the regional Geo-Politics.
  • United States of America – US has had historical relations with Israel (Owing to its Jewish demography) and Arabic monarchies (ever since the discovery of Oil in 1938) like Saudi Arabia and UAE. Post Iranian revolution of 1979, US cut its ties with Iran and has focused on isolating Iran for its Nuclear program.
  • Russia is aligning with Iran on the issues of Afghanistan and Syria. Russia has also supported the Assad regime in Syria.
  • China has signed 25-year strategic cooperation pact with Iran which has economic as well as strategic dimensions.

Emerging Geo-Politics

  • The new race of Geo-politics in the region is between US-Israel-Arab on one side, while Russia-Iran and Syria with tacit presence of China on the other.

US-Israel-Arab axis

  • Abraham Accords –The US has mediated to Normalize Arab – Israel relations by establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and UAE and backdoor engagements between Israel and other Arabic monarchies.
  • This move of US was primarily seen in the context of US steadily withdrawing from the region to focus on the Indo-Pacific, to contain the rise of China.
  • However, with Russia-Ukraine war and consequent Oil shock and its impact on Global Economy, US president Biden recently visited West Asia.
  • The goals of the visit outlined by the US were –
    • To counter Russia’s aggression
    • To be in the best position to outcompete China
    • And to work for greater stability in the region. US would not leave the middle east, and make space for Russia, China and Iran.
  • US has revived stagnant ties with Saudi Arabia (The killing of Washington post Journalist Jamal Khashoggi has strained ties), built a new coalition with GCC plus countries.
  • Committed to stopping Iran from procuring nuclear weapons.
  • US has attempted to make the case that Gulf OPEC countries must help keep the price of oil low to avoid a global crisis due to the Russian war in Ukraine.
  • The first summit of the I2U2- US and Israel strengthened cooperation with India and UAE on water, energy, transportation, space, health, and food security

Russia – Iran – China

  • After Biden’s visit Russian president Putin visited Iran which is also significant development.
  • Russia committed to need for a political resolution to the Syrian crisis without external interference.
  • Iran endorsed the Russia attack on Ukraine and the threat by NATO, while, Iran has been providing drones to Russia.
  • Both Russia and Iran have been on the same page over the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.
  • China has signed a 25-year strategic cooperation pact with Iran and is one of the biggest importer of Iranian Crude Oil. Further West Asia is crucial to its BRI Project.
  • Russia – China have been on the same side which visible in the collaboration post Russia- Ukraine war.


  • The arrangement is far from a non-security mechanism for cooperation on development issues between four countries – I2 – India and Israel, U2 – USA & UAE.
  • Foreign Ministers of the grouping first met in October 2021 and now the summit signals plans for cooperation have grown, and the US had highlighted that the I2U2 could become for the Gulf region what the Quad for the Indo-Pacific has developed too.
  • Specifically, Summit announced two projects for India:
  • UAE would invest $2 billion to develop food parks in India, where US and Israel will supply technology and expertise.
  • The group would help develop a $300 million hybrid renewable energy project in Gujarat- wind and solar energy with a battery storage capacity

Similarities between I2U2 and Quad

S. NoI2U2/ Middle East Quad VS Indo – Pacific Quad
1.India and US are common members – signifying strategic closeness
2.Israel would view it as a counter to Iran, While US sees IPQ as a counter to China
3.Both are not seen as military alliance
4.IPQ has been focusing on global concerns like – Climate Change, COVID vaccines etc.
5.Similarly, I2U2 has also called for Economic and Infrastructure cooperation.
6.IPQ countries take part in MALABAR exercise, While Israel has invited UAE as an observer to the Blue Flag Air force with India and US.
7.For India both are partnerships beyond neighborhood having implications on the neighborhood.
8.Both aim at broader goal of countering Chinese influence.


S. NoI2U2 / Middle East QuadIndo – Pacific Quad
1.A new concept – formed because of Abraham AccordsHas developed gradually over past 15 years.
2.Strategic Focus is yet to be outlined.Definite Strategic focus – Free and Open Indo- Pacific
3.Role of other members is yet be outlinedFocuses on ASEAN centrality
4.It focuses on Economic collaboration through Private companiesIt focusses on goals to be achieved through G2G collaboration
5.If it aims to counter Iran, India already has strong relations with IranIPQ has been strengthened by the India – China border tensions.
6.No parallel military partnership with common objectivesAUKUS can be seen as a parallel military partnership to the IPQ.

Positive Implications of I2U2 for India’s interest

  • It would fill the gap the United States is leaving in the Middle East.
  • It has the potential to transform the region’s geopolitics and geoeconomics.
  • The group can deepen its engagement on issues that concern India — trade, energy ties, fighting climate change and enhancing maritime security.
  • It coincides with stronger relationship that India has with both Israel and the Gulf countries.
  • It would further deepen India’s cooperation with one of the most important partner UAE.
  • It strengthens India- US engagement as strategic partners.
  • It can be effective in countering China economically and politically.

Areas of concerns

  • Role of other Arabic Gulf powers like Saudi Arabia is yet to be ascertained in this partnership.
  • An area of concern is that Except India the other three countries are adversaries of Iran.
  • Causes concerns for India – Iran relations which are collaborating on strategic projects like Chabahar and connect Central Asia policy.
  • New Quad is yet to clarify its strategic objectives.
  • US policy towards India has not been very concrete. It created a Parallel AUKUS in the Indo-Pacific. US withdrew from Afghanistan without taking India into confidence.
  • In this backdrop the US needs to further clarify India’s role in its strategic ambitions in the Middle east.

Way Forward

  • New Quad has come at a time when Israel Arab relations are improving, China’s presence in the middle east is increasing and US is withdrawing from the region.
  • In such a scenario India’s membership of the New Quad in the middle east can be crucial to India’s interest in the peace and stability of the region.
  • However, there are concerns that India’s membership of the MEQ can have adverse impact on India’s relations with Iran. However, India has carefully been treading a path of pursuing its interests in the region, without taking sides on the existing fault lines.

Thus, India’s membership of MEQ which has outlined a soft agenda of cooperation seems to be in line with its policy of “non-interference” in the internal affairs, pursuit of strategic autonomy and extension of Bilateralism to Minilaterals.

Implications of emerging Geo-Politics for India

Positive implications

  • India has close strategic ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE, GCC and the US, and any close ties, removal of disagreements between these countries is positive.
  • The I2U2 summit was a double win for India as the two projects announced will bring more investment opportunities to India
  • The Middle East or West Asia is an important region for India, especially because 8 million Indians live and work there, and thus any moves for peace and reconciliation- as with Yemen, Israel-Palestine talks or smoothing differences with Qatar, are also positive
  • Opening of airspace, allowing trade, and other ways of economic normalisation globally, especially post the pandemic will facilitate global recovery.
  • The US’s decision to engage with West Asia despite getting no assurances on its campaign against Russia gives India too, which has held out on buying Russian oil more breathing space.


  • There is growing polarization between two parts of West Asia, both of which India has close ties with Israel, Saudi and UAE on one side, and Iran on the other.
  • With US reluctant to revive JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal), the Iran-Russia-China camp is coming together, which will not augur well for India since, India wants to keep China at bay.
  • The high crude Oil Prices will keep India’s choices limited as India gave up import of Oil from Iran after Sanctions on Iran because of failure of JCPOA.
  • The more the I2U2 gains in strategic consequence, the more it will look like a counter-Iran grouping, much like the Indo-Pacific Quad now widely seen as a grouping to counter China.
  • This will affect India-Iran ties eventually and does not help India given its own strategic ties with Iran, the Chabahar port link, and the International North South Transport Corridor, and the need for an alternate to Pakistan for trade transport to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
  • Iran’s hosted Russia-Turkey over the Syrian issue. Russia – Turkey normalisation is also troubling for India, given tensions with Turkey over Pakistan and Kashmir issue.
  • If India is seen as taking a pro-Western tilt, Iran, with its $300 bn deal with China for infrastructure, and close military ties with Russia, could be seen as replacing India in its other groupings- Iran has now joined the SCO and has applied to be included in an expanded BRICS as well.

Way forward

The careful balance that India has been walking between Russia and US over the war in Europe has now gained a new arena- where India’s balance in ties with the Saudi and Israel-UAE combine versus ties with Iran could get more difficult, especially as it continues to walk the line in the Indo-Pacific. Geopolitical balancing is increasingly the challenge of a globally polarised world

New Development

  • Recently National Security Advisor Ajit Doval met his counterparts from the US, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to discuss an ambitious proposal being pushed by the White House to link West Asian countries through rail — using Indian expertise — and connect the region to South Asia via sea lanes.
  • The participants discussed the broad contours of the massive joint project to build railway, maritime and road connectivity in the larger region, linking the Indian subcontinent in South Asia with West Asia which the US also calls the Middle East.
  • The idea for the new initiative came up during talks held over the last 18 months in a forum called I2U2, which includes the US, Israel, the UAE and India. The forum was established in late 2021 to discuss strategic infrastructure projects in West Asia.

What is the railway link plan

  • It is among the key initiatives as United States wants to push in the Middle East as China’s influence in the region grows. The Middle East is a key part of China’s Belt and Road vision.
  •  The United states of America, has also proposed the Blue Dot network, is one of the elements in the creation of the connectivity project that will be financially sustainable and viable.
  • For India, China has expanded its sphere of political influence in the West Asian region through what Delhi views as “mission creep” the breakthrough in ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran had caught India unawares.

Benefit of the project:

  • Efficient: Such connectivity will allow for faster movement of the crude and minimise India’s costs in the long term. The connectivity boost will also help India’s eight million citizens who live and work in the Gulf region.
  • Branding: The project will help India build a brand as an infrastructure builder in the railways sector. Boasting a strong rail network at home and buoyed by the success of creating such infrastructure in Sri Lanka, India has the confidence to do it overseas.
  • It wants private companies as well as public sector enterprises to explore the potential economic and infrastructure opportunities in the region. 
  • Countering BRI: This will also have the effect of countering the Chinese Belt and Road project, which has burdened many countries in the region with infrastructure that has limited utility.
  • Alternative Route: The government feels that India’s connectivity to its western neighbours has been limited for long by Pakistan’s blocking of overland transit routes. So, India wants to use shipping routes to reach West Asian ports. These include Chabahar and Bandar-e-Abbas (Iran), Duqm (Oman), Dubai (UAE), Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) and Kuwait City. Connectivity projects crisscrossing the Gulf and Arab countries, with Indian stakes, open up trading opportunities.
  • Energy security: India is a significant energy consumer from the region plus it will be beneficial for partners in the project like UAE and Saudi Arabia. Prior to pivoting towards Russia in the aftermath of the Ukraine invasion, India was heavily dependent on the region for its energy needs and thus this initiative cab bring focus back on the region.


The basic plan is to connect South Asia, the Middle East and the US in ways that advance economic technology plus diplomacy and thus India can be the glue which binds the grouping. As New Delhi has steady ties with Washington and the latter sees it as a natural ally to counter the threat of China on the global map.

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