On August 13, Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced normalization of their relations. This deal, known as the Abraham Accord, was brokered by United States President Donald Trump. This means that the UAE and Israel would formally establish business relations, tourism, direct flights, scientific cooperation, and, in time, full diplomatic ties at the ambassadorial level. However, a crucial part of the deal is heightened security cooperation between the UAE and Israel against “regional security threats.”
The UAE received heavy criticism from Iran and Turkey for this deal. It was accused of disregarding the plight of the Palestinian people by supporting Israel. But the Emirati officials, such as Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed said that the accord was signed under the condition that it would “stop further Israeli annexation” of Palestine, and would provide an opportunity for Israel and Palestine to renew negotiations. Israeli representatives have used the word “suspend,” leaving legal room for resumption of their annexation activity and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy to satisfy pro-annexation political groups and factions within Israel.
At first glance, this deal appears to be an opportunity for peace between Israel and Arab states — in response to existing hostility that has long been known to cause tensions in the Middle East. The Abraham Accord could deepen pre-existing divisions, especially if Asian powers are added to the mix. The enhanced security cooperation is externally focused and offensive, targeting the common rival for Israel, the UAE and the U.S.: Iran and its proxies.
Iranian officials were quick to denounce the deal: Iranian president Hassan Rouhani condemned the deal, the Revolutionary Guard warned of a “dangerous future” for the UAE. The Abraham Accord solidifies the anti-Iranian coalition in the region. Making peace with Israel gives the UAE access to a greater quantity and higher quality of arms from the U.S. — and creates the possibility of a security alliance between Israel, the UAE, the US and other regional allies, including Saudi Arabia.
This aspect of the Abraham Accord could lead to the creation of blocs in the Middle East, putting global leaders in an uncomfortable position. The US has been clear that it has interests in strengthening Israel and its allies in the Middle East and consequently isolating Iran. But other powers, such as China, Russia and India, have interests in not disturbing the balance of power in the Middle East. China and Russia both make arms sales to Iran and India relies on the latter heavily for its oil. None of them would benefit from isolating Iran.
Asian giants China and India have welcomed the normalization of relations. However, India and China have witnessed military conflict at their LAC border since May 2020, to which the Indian government responded with economic warfare, banning over 200 Chinese applications and further tightening laws around Chinese investments in Indian companies. Both countries have been strengthening alliances. India’s growing ties with the United States, Japan and Australia as part of an informal strategic dialogue known as the Quad is a prime example of this.
Israel and the UAE have undoubtedly been among India’s closest allies in the region. The U.S., an ally to all three, has certainly influenced and often promoted its relations with Iran.
But when it comes to Iran, India has chosen to tread carefully and not give in to U.S. pressure. China has been aggressively pursuing its Belt and Road Initiative strategy in the Middle East, and India has sought to maintain its relations with these countries and curb Chinese influence. Since 2005, China has invested more than $26 billion in Iran.
Seemingly caught between U.S. pressure and the strategic need to counter China, India has maintained cordial relations with Iran. Over the years, Iran became one of India’s largest energy suppliers. India had committed to completing an energy infrastructure project that it later abandoned. However, Iran kept the offer open. India had developed the first phase of the project to modernize the Chabahar Port, and it currently operates it. It was supposed to be developed in the second phase, but due to U.S. sanctions, it has not. Indian companies, IRCON and Rites, were awarded the second phase of the project to develop the rail link connecting the southeastern port city of Chabahar to Zahedan, and from Zahedan to Sarakhs at the border with Turkmenistan.
This strategic transit would significantly reduce the traditional trade routes between the markets of India and the European and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, and is a part of Iran’s International North-South Transit Corridor, which will also boost the Iranian economy.
However, Iran and China recently proposed a deal worth $400 billion, raising insecurities in India. Following this, on September 8, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar made a pitstop in Iran’s capital Tehran to meet his counterpart Javad Zarif, before continuing his trip to Moscow for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s foreign ministers’ meeting. India wants to ensure that the Chabahar project in the West Asian country doesn’t see any Chinese involvement. Recently, an Iranian envoy proposed a new bloc of five countries — Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China — to boost cooperation and resolve issues in the region. This further points toward the emergence of security blocs in the Middle East. Both China and India are vying for influence in the region as their border conflict continues to sour.
Ultimately, India will have to pick sides. Over the past few years, it has been growing ties with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Saudi Arabia, and the relations now extend from energy security to security and defense cooperation, including intelligence-sharing and counterterrorism. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have also played a role in improving India’s ties with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), though differences remain on issues such as the decades long territorial dispute over Kashmir, which has been a major point of tension between India, Iran and Turkey.
India’s growing ties to the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are evident — but so is the anti-Iran sentiment of the Abraham Accord. India must accept that to realize its superpower dreams, it must make some sacrifices.