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July 25, 2024

India’s Middle East Strategy in the Backdrop of the Israel-Palestine War

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By: Aasi Ansari, Research Analyst, GSDN

Middle East: source Internet

Introduction

Israel-Palestine war is not new, but has been a part of the world for decades. Hamas had never infiltrated Israeli defence before October 07, 2023 killing more Israeli compared to when Egypt, Syria and Jordan was at war with Israel 50 years ago in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Hamas also busted the myth of Israel’s invincibility and having the best defence system in the world by piercing through 22 points. The Indian approach towards the Palestine has changed a lot after India became Independent. In early years of independence, India stud with Palestine against Israel by opposing the Western Colonialism and Domination to the Middle East.

India’s Middle East Strategy

India recognized Israel right after the independence, but never established diplomatic relations until after the cold war in January 1992. This relationship was normalized by India’s Prime-Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and started the cooperation in military area. India-Israel relations became strong when Israel helped India with military aid in Kargil war in 1999. However, Prime-Minster Narendra Modi took this relationship on a whole different level when he came power in 2014.

An Indian Prime Minister visited Israel in 2017 for the first time. This visit was considered a major turning point in India-Israel relationship and India’s stand in Israel-Palestine war. Following the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel, the Israeli Prime-Minister also visited India after few months. This boosted the economic and defence ties between India-Israel. India became Israel’s largest defence customer by importing approximately 45% of arms export showing the interest for the long term strategic relation. India has spent about US $4.2 billion between 2001–2021 on Israeli weapon sysytems.

For a long period of time, India’s Middle-East ties were majorly influenced by Oil and Energy but now there are Strategic deals as well. India has been trying to make economic and defence ties with Middle-East by different diplomatic tools. Israel-Palestine War of 2023 started less than a month after the G20 Summit held in New Delhi, in which they announced ‘The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor’ (IMEC) in the presence of the European Union, the US, France, Germany, and Italy, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Similarly, India became a part of I2U2 which stands for ‘India, Israel, United Arab Emirates and United States’ in July 2021, through which India is trying to tackle the water, energy, transportation, space, health and food security challenges with the Middle-East. Also the Indian Prime-Minister’s visit to Jordan, Palestine, Qatar, Oman, UAE, and Egypt has proven that India’s interest for keeping the good diplomatic relations with the Middle-East. Hamas group might be able to slow down the agendas of all these institutions.

On February 10, 2018 the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Palestine for the first time where he was awarded the highest Palestinian award of the “Grand Collar of the State of Palestine” for providing aid of US$ 42.1 million to Palestine for nation building in education, health, women empowerment and capacity building.

India’s balancing strategy may suffer due to the Israel-Palestine war after 07 October 2023. India is surrounded by Pakistan and China who are not only supporting Palestine but they are also against United States supporting Israel. If not all the governments in the Middle-East, at least some of the Monarchies might reconsider the economical and strategical ties with India.

India’s stands on Israel-Palestine conflicts have also had domestic impact. Considering the fact that the Modi Government is supported by Hindutva ideology and India is one of the largest Muslim populated non-Muslim country, almost 600 million people in South-Asia are Muslims, including 400 million within India itself. Hence, it will have huge political impact in entire South-Asia if India’s balancing act become entirely one-sided.

Change in strategy due the Israel-Palestine war

On the response of Hamas attack on Israel, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted by showing support for Israel and stating that India always stands against terrorism. However, in response to the Hamas attack on October 07, 2023, Israel attacked Palestine killing more Palestinian comparatively. After the Israeli attack on Palestine, Indian Prime-Minister Modi tweeted his shock on the loss lives of the innocent civilians of Gaza in the bombing of Al-Ahli hospital and provided humanitarian aid to Palestine. This proved that India’s defence deals with Israel did not change its principle position on Palestine by keeping the balancing approach towards Israel-Palestine conflict.

India is the largest oil-consumer and importer in the World, thanks to the rising population, the Israel-Hamas conflicts has raised concern for potential impact on oil prices in India. Till September 2023, India imported 44 % oil from Middle-East including 21 % form Iraq and 18 % from Saudi Arabia. The Reserve Bank of India has pegged an exchange rate of 82.5 Rupees against the US dollar with the crude oil prices at $85 per barrel for the year 2024. This could have a huge influence on India’s strategy in the Middle-East. Therefore, India is trying to find other sources for the oil import such as Guyana, Canada, Gabon, Brazil, and Colombia.

Israel-Palestine conflict has also impacted the bordering countries of Palestine. They might speed up their military and defence technological development because of any potential threat from Israel. Iran’s recent nuclear development has also raised concerns for many countries in the world.  If Iran becomes a nuclear state, it could be a big problem for Israel, considered to be the only nuclear country in the Middle-East. Iran is also considered to have links with the 3Hs, i.e. Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthis and also links with the other Islamic militant groups. With India being one of the nine nuclear armed states, Hezbollah supporting Hamas linked with nuclear armed Iran could potentially have detrimental effect for not only India-Middle East strategic relations but many others countries in the world.

In the recent years, India has taken more balancing strategy towards Israel-Palestine conflict. On one side, India is against terrorism but also do not support colonization of Israel over Palestine. On one hand, India has been importing arms form Israel along with providing humanitarian aid for Palestine. Indian Prime Minister condemning the Hamas attack on Israel and at the same time India sympathised with the lives lost in Gaza. This balancing act has served India rather well. India is looking forward to build on the I2U2 partnership because United States is one of India’s best friends while Israel is best partner in defence sector. The United Arab Emirates’ defence and economic diplomacy is working better in India’s favour as well. India has transitioned its economic relationship with the Gulf Cooperation Council into a strategic partnership. Indian has defence engagements with Arab countries with maritime ships regularly deploying in the Gulf of Aden in the Arabian Sea.

Conclusion

India always have managed to maintain strong diplomatic relationship with America, Russia, Israel, Palestine and many other countries in the world. India has used the I2U2 and IMEC to strengthen long-term strategic relations with not only Middle-East but the Europe and the West as well. This is one of the reasons why India is called the Vishwaguru. India supports the Two-State solution to end the Israel-Palestine conflict. Being said that, India could play a big role in the Middle-East conflicts by being the link between the Israel and Palestine. India could help to alleviate the war and provide a solution to the conflict. The best approach for India is to continue the balancing act that India has always opted for the long-term strategic approach.

What Hamas did on Israel on October 07, 2023 is something no country has ever done before and it might leave its mark on entire Middle-East. But the world has been selective about the identification and definition of terrorism. Hamas has been accused of killing about 1200 people in Israel but it the fact can’t be over-looked that Israel has killed approximately 24000 Palestinians, since October 07, 2023. For many countries Hamas is terrorist organization but for Palestine and majority of Arab countries, Hamas is considered as a freedom fighting organization. Considering the fact that Israel is an occupying country while Palestine has been considered to be the biggest open air prison in the world and trying to get freedom and live freely for decades. In this matter, India’s Middle-East balancing strategy is considered the best approach to deal with the Middle-East conflicts, since India condemns all terrorist acts including Hamas, since India has been the victim of both terrorist attacks and border conflicts but at the same time India also supports the Palestinian people by providing Humanitarian aid.

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