In the shifting geopolitical sand in the West Asian region, the formation of I2U2 is a formalisation of already existing strategic cooperation between India, Israel, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates. The foreign Ministers of all these four countries met for the first time at the International Forum for Economic Cooperation in October 2021, intending to promote infrastructure, public health, green technologies, and industrial development. India has, however, been playing a proactive role and has witnessed evolutionary changes in bilateral relations with some of the major players in the region, like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Qatar. The minilateral grouping presents an opportunity for India to deepen its foothold further in the region. The I2U2 is also the direct outcome of the heightened international and geopolitical uncertainty and the effort of most countries to cope with the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Several regional and extra-regional powers with diverse political and economic interests are jostling for power. Economic cooperation is the scene setter for this cooperation, but the unpredictability of West Asian politics remains the deciding factor.
Abraham Accord paved the way for the normalization of diplomatic ties with UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco with Israel in 2020 facilitated by the US. I2U2 is a minilateral forum indicating the first cooperative agreement addressing mutual non-conventional security concerns between regional and international players. In order to maintain the Indo-Pacific strategy, it is equally essential for the US to maintain its West Asian ties and counter other influences over the region. Often referred to as the Western Quad, I2U2 presents a platform for greater synergy and geo-economic cooperation and prevents the US retreat from the region. It also indirectly revitalized US predominance in the region through the new alliance system. It is, therefore, wrong to consider I2U2 as a purely economic cooperation among these four countries. It has an indirect strategic angle to it without getting direct military cooperation. However, parallels drawn between QUAD and I2U2 (often called the West Asian QUAD) are often questionable given the altering foreign policies amidst the changing geopolitical realities. Also, Indo-Pacific QUAD is more of a defence security cooperation, whereas I2U2 is economic cooperation with indirect strategic implications. This grouping benefits all four countries to strengthen its position: This pact led Israel to advance relations with the UAE at a rapid pace. I2U2 is a distinguishable platform that Israel shares with an Arab country.
I2U2 has a lot of potential, and its structure offers many chances for mutually beneficial cooperation. The UAE is developing new policies, luring start-ups, and is prepared to invest large sums of money. In contrast, the United States has immense capabilities in every imaginable subject; India has enormous people resources and talents; Israel has advanced technology in a number of critical fields. However, the onus of its sustainability will mainly lie with the UAE and Israel — the main beneficiaries — to maintain the interest of the United States and India and substantiate its continuation.
India can be referred to as a “natural partner” for the US in its efforts to revitalize its alliances in the area because of its amicable connections, strong cultural and historical ties, and vibrant economic relationships with the neighbouring nations. India has a respectable presence in the area because it is a significant energy importer from the region and a significant exporter of consumer products and labour to the West Asian region. India is a significant source of diversification and modernization for the UAE, in addition to being a major oil importer. This is due to India’s enormous IT businesses. Likewise, Indo-Israeli relations are thriving right now, with defence relations serving as the foundation for this expanding strategic convergence.
The Western Indian Ocean region is considered an area of geopolitical interest by New Delhi, given the critical Sea Line of Communications (SLOCs) that pass through the area, also the presence of crucial geographic choke points like the Suez Canal and Bab-el-Mandeb. Thus, regional groupings like I2U2 bring with them a plethora of opportunities.
The alliance aids India in establishing itself as a trustworthy, strategic, and progressive partner in West Asia. With important regional nations like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, the present administration has successfully developed stronger ties in several different areas, including energy, trade and investment, counterterrorism, and defence cooperation. The I2U2 can give India a strong foundation for a bigger role in West Asia. It may result in the development of a more robust and comprehensive strategic alliance between India and 12 West Asian nations.
India and Gulf nations have seen an unprecedented improvement in their ties since the turn of the millennium. New Delhi has strong strategic ties to the Middle East as a result of India’s diaspora and “Look West” policy, which aims to strengthen already burgeoning links with the region’s main powers.
I2U2 is a prime illustration of how “minilaterals” can change the geopolitical landscape of West Asia, allowing India to forge long-term security cooperation as well as economic ties through a holistic engagement plan. India’s influence in the region has significantly increased recently, making the I2U2 alliance a logical next step for India to consolidate those relationships further.