India and the Arab World’s Delicate Positioning in the Iran-Israel Conflict

India finds itself in a delicate position, balancing its diplomatic relationships with both Israel and Iran while prioritizing the safety of its citizens.

By Omer Ghazi

The recent escalation between Israel and Iran has drawn international concern, with the Indian government closely monitoring the situation. Following Israel’s retaliatory strike on Iran, Indian officials are evaluating the need for further action, including the possibility of evacuating Indian nationals in both countries. While Israel’s response has been limited in scope, there remains a palpable sense of tension in the region.

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India finds itself in a delicate position, balancing its diplomatic relationships with both Israel and Iran while prioritizing the safety of its citizens. The government had previously issued advisories urging Indian nationals to refrain from traveling to either country and to exercise caution if already residing there. However, as the conflict unfolds, the need for a more decisive course of action may arise, particularly if tensions escalate further.

The Ministry of External Affairs has emphasized the importance of dialogue and diplomacy in resolving the crisis, urging both Israel and Iran to exercise restraint. India, with its longstanding commitment to peaceful conflict resolution, stands ready to play a constructive role in de-escalating the situation. As the world watches the unfolding events in the Middle East with apprehension, India remains committed to ensuring the safety of its citizens while advocating for a peaceful resolution to the Israel-Iran conflict.

India’s position in the Israel-Iran conflict is not only challenging due to concerns over the safety of its citizens but also because of significant trade and economic implications. With longstanding diplomatic ties with both Israel and Iran, India must carefully navigate its relationships while safeguarding its interests.

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu with India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval (Image: Prime Minister of Israel / X)

Recent events in the Middle East, such as attacks on the Red Sea shipping route by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, have highlighted the vulnerability of key trade routes crucial for India’s energy imports. India, a major importer of oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG), relies heavily on the Hormuz shipping route for two-thirds of its oil and half of its LNG imports.

Concerns over the security of the Hormuz route have prompted India to explore alternative sources of energy, such as increasing reliance on countries like Iraq. However, even oil from Iraq, as well as other major exporters like Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, and Kuwait, is exported through the Hormuz strait, which now faces heightened risk due to the conflict.

This leaves India in a precarious position, as any disruption to the Hormuz shipping route could have severe consequences for its energy security and economy.

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President of Islamic Republic of Iran Dr Ebrahim Raisi with Indian Foreign Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar (Dr. S Jaishankar / X )

Despite forging closer ties with Israel, India has remained committed to the Palestinian cause, advocating for a negotiated settlement based on mutual recognition and a two-state solution. India’s engagement with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority underscores its nuanced approach to the Israel-Palestine issue, balancing its own national interests with its historical support for Palestinian aspirations.

In recent years, collaborations between India and Israel have expanded beyond traditional areas of cooperation. Defense collaboration remains a cornerstone of the relationship, with India being one of the largest buyers of Israeli defense equipment. Additionally, bilateral trade and investments have grown substantially, with both countries exploring opportunities for further economic cooperation. Cultural exchanges and people-to-people ties have also strengthened, contributing to the deepening of bilateral relations between India and Israel.

Overall, India’s approach to the Israel-Palestine issue reflects a pragmatic balancing act, driven by its evolving national interests, principles of international law, and commitment to peace and stability in the region.

However, India is not the only nation navigating a complex geopolitical landscape amidst the Iran-Israel conflict; Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan also find themselves delicately balancing their interests and alliances in the region. With escalating hostilities, these countries’ interests do not uniformly align with either Iran or Israel.

UAE, in particular, has adopted a relatively neutral stance, seeking to maintain a multifaceted and non-aligned approach to geopolitics. This approach is evidenced by its restoration of full diplomatic relations with Iran just two years after normalizing relations with Israel in 2020.

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia are focused on economic diversification and long-term prosperity, aiming to serve as trade and commercial hubs in a post-oil future. This emphasis on stability within their borders and throughout the neighborhood underscores their desire to mitigate the risks of regional conflict.

Saudi Arabia’s participation in a regional military coalition, alongside Israel, the United States, and other allies, highlights its strategic interests in countering threats posed by Iran. The recent interception of Iranian drones and missiles, with the assistance of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, underscores the shared concern about Iran’s activities in the region.

While the motivations behind Saudi Arabia and Jordan’s involvement in thwarting the attack may be varied and complex, they suggest a common concern about the threat posed by Iran and a desire to prevent a widespread regional conflict.

Apart from recognizing the Iranian threat, another reason could be their energy dependence on Israel or the possibility of economic collaboration. Israel has emerged as a vital economic power in the region, possibly contributing to their reluctance to take concrete actions against Israel despite ongoing tensions in the region.

Jordan, in particular, relies significantly on Israel for essential water and energy resources. Despite negligible cross-border trade and investment, Jordan’s dependence on Israeli water has grown substantially over the years. Under the 1994 peace agreement, Jordan was entitled to purchase water from Israel, a lifeline for one of the world’s most water-scarce countries. This dependence is likely to increase further, with plans to swap more Israeli water for Jordanian solar energy, potentially leading to additional imports from Israel.

Similarly, the UAE’s economic interests in maintaining ties with Israel are multifaceted and far-reaching. Beyond trade and investment, the UAE seeks to leverage Israel’s technological expertise to bolster its own tech industry and address regional challenges such as climate change. Since the 2020 Abraham Accords, the UAE has also become a significant buyer of Israeli arms, signaling a deeper strategic alignment between the two countries.

While the economic relationship between Israel and these Arab nations may still be relatively small in dollar terms, it represents a broader aspiration to reshape the Middle East’s economic landscape. Countries like the UAE and Bahrain prioritize economic development over traditional geopolitical rivalries, envisioning a future where the region is characterized by prosperity rather than conflict. Saudi Arabia, under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan, is also pursuing a similar path of economic diversification, albeit with a more cautious approach towards Israel.

Despite varying degrees of conviction among Arab states about Israel’s role in the region, the normalization talks and growing economic collaborations underscore a significant shift in attitudes towards Israel. Riyadh’s willingness to engage in normalization talks with Israel, previously unimaginable, reflects a broader recognition of Israel’s presence in the evolving geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.

As moderate Arab powers navigate their relationships with Israel amidst escalating tensions, pragmatic considerations increasingly outweigh traditional emotional ties. The growing economic collaborations between Israel and countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE highlight a broader shift towards prioritizing mutual interests over historical grievances.

India’s emergence as a strong mediator in the region demonstrates the importance of leveraging diplomatic relationships and fostering dialogue to address tensions and prevent further escalation.

Iranian Ambassador Iraj Elahi’s acknowledgment of India’s potential to mitigate tensions and prevent Israeli aggression underscores the significance of India’s diplomatic influence in the region. By emphasizing mutual interests and pursuing dialogue-driven approaches, India can contribute to fostering stability and de-escalating conflicts in the volatile West Asian region. As countries navigate the complexities of regional dynamics, pragmatic diplomacy and collaboration remain essential tools in ensuring peace and stability in the Middle East.

Contributing Author: Omer Ghazi is a proponent of religious reform and identifies himself as “an Indic Muslim exploring Vedic knowledge and cultural heritage through music”. He extensively writes on geo-politics, history and culture and his book “The Cosmic Dance” is a collection of his poems. When he is not writing columns, he enjoys playing drums and performing raps.

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