New Delhi: The new grouping that has been created among India, Israel, the US and the UAE is meant to give shape to a new level of economic cooperation and is “not against China”, according to Rony Yedidia-Clein, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israel Embassy in India.
Speaking to ThePrint on the meeting that took place among the foreign ministers of these four countries Monday, the Israeli diplomat said the possibility of a mega trade deal cannot be ruled out.
“The joint working group (a mechanism to be set up under the grouping) will take forward the discussions the foreign ministers had during the meeting. We are calling it a joint international forum for economic cooperation of these four countries who want to do business together,” she said.
“We are not trying to be against any country, and, to your question, this is not something against China.”
The foreign ministers of India, Israel, US and the UAE met Monday and decided to create a joint working group on issues concerning maritime security, infrastructure, digital infrastructure, and transport.
The meeting was attended by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Israel Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Israel, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan tuning in via video link. The meeting was an Israeli initiative.
The Israel Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “each minister will appoint senior-level professionals to a joint working group that will formulate options for cooperation”.
In a tweet about the meeting Monday, Jaishankar said the countries “discussed working together more closely on economic growth and global issues”.
Discussed working together more closely on economic growth and global issues. Agreed on expeditious follow-up. pic.twitter.com/kVgFM0r6hs
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) October 18, 2021
The US sees the initiative as an expansion of economic and political cooperation in the Middle East and Asia, including through trade, combating climate change, energy cooperation, and increasing maritime security, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.
The idea for the grouping’s creation emerged during Lapid’s visit to the US earlier this month. During the trip, Lapid met Blinken and Al Nahyan, and the ministers expressed their intent to “expand” the Abraham Accords — under which the Jewish state of Israel has established diplomatic relations with its Muslim-majority neighbours — and further the normalisation of ties between the UAE and Israel.
“We are going to push forward as hard as we can on this while working on expanding the Abraham Accords to other countries, including the ones you don’t think of,” Lapid had said at the meeting.
Talking about the initiative, one diplomatic source who refused to be identified said the “joint working group will take forward the main agenda of the grouping and will be at the level of foreign secretaries”.
Yedidia-Clein said “we believe the scope of trade between India and Israel and UAE is rising”.
“But together, and along with the US, we can do much more… We are also not ruling out the possibility of a mega trade deal. But these are early days, more talks will take place on what we can do together. On maritime security also, what we are looking at is to improve the living standards of all citizens,” she added.
After a meeting with Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett Wednesday, Jaishankar said the “warm and rich discussion” was aimed at “realising the full potential of our strategic partnership”.
His sharing of his strategic perspectives was also very valuable.
India and Israel will work even more closely to realize their partnership’s vision for the next 30 years.
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) October 20, 2021
‘Coming together of countries’
The Israeli media referred to the grouping on an upbeat note, with the Jerusalem Post calling it a “silent revolution”.
“Added to this list should also be Greece, France, Cyprus, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and some other countries that share common interests, either in the Eastern Mediterranean or as part of a bloc of stability and moderation,” an analysis piece in the paper said Tuesday.
The Haaretz reported before the meeting that Israel’s image has got a major boost globally after the Abraham Accords, and more and more countries want to engage with it.
While some experts have referred to the new grouping as another quad, others said the label didn’t apply. However, there is consensus that this is definitely a coming together of countries planning to work together.
Anil Trigunayat, ex-Indian envoy to Jordan, Libya and Malta, said: “It remains to be seen whether these countries can work together. For the US, Israel’s security is paramount. So, they are carrying on Trump’s policy of enhancing the engagement in this region, which now also includes India.
“From India’s perspective it is like a formal quartet, to develop some strategies … India considers West Asia part of the Indo-Pacific strategy. The UAE is also trying to have a middle-power status in the region, so they have now decided to come together.”
Raja Mohan, Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at National University of Singapore, has referred to the grouping as a new Quad in West Asia. In an editorial piece for The Indian Express, he said, “The first meeting between foreign ministers of India, Israel, UAE and US suggests that Delhi is now ready to move from bilateral relations conducted in separate silos towards an integrated regional policy.”
Talmiz Ahmad, India’s former ambassador to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, told ThePrint that it is “difficult to make out what they want as of now”, but hinted that it could be aimed at China.
Ahmad said if the intention is to expand the Abraham Accords, then these countries should now work towards including Palestine in it. “The US’ only concern is now containment of China. This grouping is aimed at that.”
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)