US President Joe Biden is expected to visit Israel later this week for the first time since taking office in January 2021. On Thursday, he will participate in a virtual summit called I2U2, which will include the leaders of Israel, India, the US and the UAE.
What is this forum, and why is it important for the president to participate in it?
According to an Israeli source, the idea behind the forum is to build on the Abraham Accords to expand regional partnerships beyond the Middle East, specifically on energy, tech and economic issues.
“It is hard to overstate how important it is,” said Danny Ayalon, former Israeli ambassador to Washington. “The entire periphery of Iran is extremely important [for Israel] because of its location and its economic power. The US is supporting India as a counterweight to China – these are two old rivals.”
“The entire periphery of Iran is extremely important [for Israel] because of its location and its economic power. The US is supporting India as a counterweight to China — these are two old rivals.”Former Israeli Ambassador to Israel Danny Ayalon
Australia is also worried about China, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if it is added to the forum down the road, he said.
“The second vector of this quad is Iran,” he added. “Israel and the UAE are worried about Iran, and the US is essentially combining the Chinese threat and the Iranian one-to-one forum, without ‘paying’ with any assets, such as deploying troops.”
“While the US woke up late to the challenge, it is still encouraging to see that they are taking a leadership position here, because there’s no substitute to the US leadership,” Ayalon said.
Dan Shapiro, distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council and former US ambassador to Israel, said the forum is a way to demonstrate in a virtual setting that the US is supporting the Abraham Accords.
“By connecting it to India, it’s a way of trying to help anchor this emerging regional coalition in the US camp vis-à-vis Russia and China,” he said.
In the case of India, China is of particular concern, Shapiro said.
“The US has earlier set up a different quad, the Asian Pacific quad, with the US, Australia, India and Japan,” he said. “And that’s clearly understood to be a forum to counter Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific.”
“Connecting the emerging Middle East coalition that results from the Abraham Accords with the coalition of countries that are trying to counter Chinese influence [results in] a real strategic advantage for the United States,” he added. “I think that’s why he’ll make time for it [during] his visit to Israel.”
The US wants to ensure that countries in the Middle East limit their security cooperation with China, Shapiro said.
“There was concern about a Chinese military base being built in the UAE,” he said. “That seems to be on hold, but it’s still a question if that project has ended. There’s concern about sales of certain Chinese military weapon systems into the Middle East, and the United States wants to limit that. And, of course, there’s always the concern about China gaining access to sensitive technologies.”
“And so, as much as possible, if India is seen as the partner and the market for those kinds of economic opportunities rather than China, that’s also an advantage for the United States,” Shapiro said.
Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to Washington, said by conveying the forum, the US is sending a message that it has not completely withdrawn. The US has shown that it is interested both in the Middle East and in showing a stronger presence in Asia, he said.
“I think that on the American and Indian side, there is probably a greater emphasis on the challenge of China,” Oren said. “But on the Israeli side, there is more emphasis on the challenge of Iran.”