In a changing Middle East, India is more important than ever - opinion

India’s strong links in the Gulf and in Israel could play an important role in determining the region’s future direction.

A MAN climbs a pole during Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India in January 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A MAN climbs a pole during Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India in January 2018
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The past year has presented us with many unprecedented challenges; the COVID-19 pandemic is still posing a grave threat to many countries around the world, including the United States and Europe. At the same time, the Middle East is undergoing real change for the better.  The dynamics of the Abraham Accords are reshaping the region dramatically, opening new opportunities for those engaged in it: such as India.
India’s strong links in the Gulf and in Israel could play an important role in determining the region’s future direction. Its sizable manpower in the region, combined with Israel’s growing engagement, signal a real opportunity not only for the Israel-India relationship, but for the two countries to cooperate widely in the Middle East and Asia.   
Looking at the big picture, superpower competition, border conflicts between China and India, and increased pressure by the Trump administration on its allies have posed challenges to international relations, and especially to countries caught between the superpowers.
Incoming US President Joe Biden’s policies toward Asia remain to be seen, but the superpower competition between the US and China will probably continue and possibly even intensify in some areas. The Biden team is likely to focus on rebuilding the US’s alliances, including with Israel and India, with a particular focus on technology.
Both India and Israel, technological hubs in their own right, need to reassess their position between a domestically preoccupied United States and a more assertive China. Superpower rivalry will be determined by the outcome of the global technological race, making the two countries – technological and innovation leaders – crucial players in this sphere. Israel and India should actively work to increase cooperation in what is likely to be an ongoing period of instability ahead.
Since establishing relations with Israel in 1992, India has worked to balance its relationships with the Arab world and Israel. Following its dehyphenation policy, introduced in 2018, India officially replaced its NAM position with a focus on both sides of the Israeli-Arab divide. This policy, having proved successful in the Israeli-Arab context, could also provide a formula for advancing ties in the evolving Middle East in general.
The dynamics of the Abraham Accords have historic momentum, presenting powers with a strong regional presence, like India, a unique opportunity to play an important role in determining its future direction. India has already sought to establish joint space programs with the UAE and with Israel – trilateral cooperation in this area could be of great value for all sides.  
The changing regional landscape bodes well for India-Israeli cooperation in the Middle East and Asia. Both countries should take the initiative to focus on cutting-edge technology and innovation. Israel’s R&D strength and innovation capabilities can be complemented perfectly by India’s expertise and its diverse and large market. It also creates new opportunities for trilateral cooperation in areas such as water management, counter-terrorism and very importantly, technology.
BANGALORE AND Tel Aviv, often referred to as the leading and innovative technology hubs in Asia, have enormous potential for tech collaboration. Big data analysis, artificial intelligence and renewable energies alongside healthcare and agriculture, are just some of the areas that can be developed further.
India’s vast and diverse start-up ecosystem can profit from Israel’s cutting-edge technologies and solutions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India Initiative and India’s liberalization of the space sector provide immense room for engagement.
Issues at the heart of the escalating global technological race, such as 5G infrastructure and semiconductor production, could become the base for the Israel-India future. The potential is evident but so far, the relationship has not reached its full potential. Making it a reality requires an active and concerted effort on both sides.
The relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Modi is important, but personal relations – even between two leaders, are not enough. Both countries need to develop an active long-term strategy beyond election-term circles.
Faced with the critical challenge of COVID-19, Israel and India have demonstrated their ability to work together in crisis, establishing extensive cooperation throughout the pandemic in areas such as protection equipment, medical kits and diagnostic technology.
Both countries should harness this momentum to learn from each other as they move to vaccinate their populations and to develop healthcare cooperation more broadly.
In a rapidly changing global landscape, it is essential to build long-lasting relationships. Trust built throughout these difficult times should help strengthen cooperation further, especially in cutting-edge technology and innovation. Technology is set to shape the global and regional future, robust cooperation in this field will strengthen India and Israel’s position in an increasingly multi-polar word.
But in order to realize this strategic opportunity more in-depth, understanding of the challenges and opportunities of the relationship is needed. Academia and think tanks should fulfill a crucial role in advancing such cooperation, putting forward ideas and bringing together the private sector and government. Stepping up to the challenge, an upcoming series of events jointly hosted by the Abba Eban Institute and the Takshashila Institute will endeavor to lay the groundwork for the future of this promising relationship.
Ron Prosor is the chairman of the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy, and a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. Dr. Gedaliah Afterman is head of the Asia Policy Program at the Abba Eban Institute of International Diplomacy.