Middle East Quad II: A Critical Analysis

On 18 October 2021, India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the United States’ Foreign Ministers hinted towards making another QUAD (or QUAD- II) in the Middle East. It is a critical development as the world is experiencing a tide of minilateralism; a targeted approach towards achieving a specific goal. Unlike multilateralism, it holds significance for generating quick solutions to real problems, which takes many countries on board. This new initiative aims to enhance India’s role in the region with an underlying major powers competition in Asia-Pacific.

The latest concept of Middle East QUAD is viewed critical for India to secure its interests in the region on a larger level. India aims to balance itself against China by gluing itself to the alliance in the Arab world. After the years’ long confrontation over the disputed border in the Himalayas between China and India along with the persistent intransigence along the treacherous mountain range, India desires to increase its role in Indo-Pacific and Middle East through the QUAD like alliances. Under the 2017 National Security Strategy of the United States of America: India is considered a key partner of the US to contain China at all levels i.e., political, economic, militarily, and social. Looking beyond the regional goals, the QUAD-II is likely to connect India to its partners across the Gulf and Middle Eastern region. Such dynamics illustrates a tactic of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitions on the diplomatic front that it seeks to bolster its ties with older allies like Israel and the UAE. It is also pertinent to mention that the United States (US), Israel, and UAE would desire to boost strategic ties with India, which has had a minimal role in the Middle East’s politics through the years. For the Gulf States, India can be seen important for possessing a colossal manufacturing market and a widened foreign policy footprint. The Indian market and its growth projections can play an important role to address the ongoing waves of economic transformation that has engulfed the Arab World.

Furthermore, after the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan, India is considered as key partner for the US policy makers to counter China’s growing influence across the globe. It is because India perceives an entrapment from the China’s Belt and Road Initiative’s (BRI) Projects and the intense infrastructural developments to increase connectivity across Asia and beyond. Though the US and India claim that the QUAD in the Indo-Pacific is not targeted against China, it is still easy to gauge how the US and India are committed to counter China and might benefit from such an arrangement in Middle East as well. Furthermore, joining the QUAD-II proves India’s close strategic ties with the US and two of the US’ top regional partners i.e., the UAE and Israel, keeping in view the US-Israel relationship and the signing of the Abraham Accords between the UAE and Israel that is self-explanatory. However, India might need to gather additional motivations to enhance its role in Middle East to achieve geo-political goals outside its borders. For this purpose, it can portray the new group or QUAD-II as a presumed alliance to contain China’s economic influence in the Middle Eastern region. So QUAD-II will pave the way for New Delhi from the Indo-Pacific to the Mediterranean region for its own strategic ambitions.

For the US, QUAD-II and moving beyond the Indo-Pacific region signals the containment of China in other regions of the world. Moreover, the QUAD-II is likely to complement the QUAD in the Indo-Pacific region. The strategic alliances between the states through the framework of QUADS in both the regions has gained attention as the US President Joe Biden seeks to realize the ambitions of his predecessors in countering the Chinese rise.

The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has a geostrategic importance for linking the hydrocarbon enriched Middle Eastern region to the economically diverse Asia, which has grown as a conflicting point due to intensifying rivalry between China and India. This rivalry is important for the US, keeping in view its political, security, and economic interests. The growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region was reiterated through the National Security Strategy of the US in December 2017, according to which “A geo-political competition between free and repressive visions of world order is taking place in the Indo-Pacific region.” China’s strategic presence and infrastructure projects for regional development such as in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Djibouti are considered as threat to the US’ geo-political and geo-economic interests in the region.

Based on its interests in East Asia, India is already a member of the QUAD, sharing the forum with the US, Australia, and Japan. So, both the QUADS; one in Indo-Pacific and the other in the Middle East, point towards the realization that the US is actively looking forward to containing China on multiple fronts. The deepened cooperation in Indo-pacific and the signing of the AUKUS deal (while ignoring non-proliferation responsibilities) is one of the demonstrations by the US aimed at countering the Chinese rise.

For the US, QUAD-II and moving beyond the Indo-Pacific region signals the containment of China in other regions of the world. Moreover, the QUAD-II is likely to complement the QUAD in the Indo-Pacific region. The strategic alliances between the states through the framework of QUADS in both the regions has gained attention as the US President Joe Biden seeks to realize the ambitions of his predecessors in countering the Chinese rise. The US, for this purpose, has robustly come up with challenging arrangements, alliances, and coalitions that are likely to impact regional stability. So as soon as the US drifted apart from its Afghan quagmire, it is focused to counter China, whereas, now terrorism is viewed as secondary threat by the US policy makers. So, the second QUAD in the Arab world with the major Gulf States is also a China-Specific strategy desiring to limit the Chinese role in the region.

The Middle East is crucial as it remains a critical geo-political and geo-strategic region for the US and China. Middle East is importance for China as it is positioned at the crossroads of its BRI mega projects. In 2016, when Xi Jinping visited Middle East, China’s Arab Policy Paper was released by the Chinese Communist Party, which highlighted its broader vision for the region. Energy security cooperation formed the basis of this vision, followed by investment, trade with the region, and developing cooperation over nuclear energy.

The talks on QUAD-II in the Middle East have unfolded an unfounded comparison with the QUAD in Indo-Pacific, aiming at countering China’s rise in the region. The US under its 2017 National Security Strategy desires to forge alliance with Israel and UAE, pulling them away from Beijing.

The Chinese partnerships with Israel and the UAE are noteworthy with regard to the ventures directed against Beijing. The developing cooperation between China and UAE by signing a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSS) was the highest level of diplomatic relationship between the two states. It is because UAE has been vital for China’s vision of the Middle East. UAE has shown keen interest in revitalizing the ancient Silk Road through the BRI. Furthermore, the UAE’s National Security Advisor Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al-Nayhan’s stated partnership with China for opening up a COVID19 testing lab to conduct trials for vaccine in Abu Dhabi are worth mentioning in this regard. Similarly, when it comes to Israel, China has been its second largest trading partner. It is estimated that almost $400m were in Israeli start-ups in 2018 and $243 m in 2019 by China. Moreover, from 2005-2021, the Chinese investments in Israel reached up to $13 billion. Regardless of the US reservations, the last ten years of Netanyahu led government saw an unprecedented rise in China and Israel partnerships which were termed as ‘pragmatic and mutually’ beneficial. Washington’s apprehensions were heightened when Israel’s Haifa port was sold to Shanghai International Port Group; a Chinese state-backed investor in 2015. It pointed towards the ease of access to the Chinese surveillance in the Eastern Mediterranean which can keep an eye over the US Navy and its allies in a contested environment.

The talks on QUAD-II in the Middle East have unfolded an unfounded comparison with the QUAD in Indo-Pacific, aiming at countering China’s rise in the region. The US under its 2017 National Security Strategy desires to forge alliance with Israel and UAE, pulling them away from Beijing. Like the QUAD in the Indo-Pacific, the US has projected itself as the center of the Middle Eastern QUAD. Here, it has the added advantage of the UAE’s capital, Israel’s technological advancement, and the Indian manufacturing market to bolster itself against China. While it is yet to be seen what shape this new QUAD will take between India, Israel, UAE and the US, it is clear that it is a driving force for a new phase of the global economic race.

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About Zukhruf Amin 5 Articles
The author is working as a Research Associate at COPAIR. She holds an MPhil degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from NDU. She has previously worked at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Research, and Analysis (ISSRA). Her areas of interest are South Asian Politics, Peace and Conflict Transformation, and Climate Change.