India’s Growing Presence in the Middle East

February 22, 2023 | Husain Haqqani and Aparna Pande
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After the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria, New Delhi rushed to send aid, which included a mobile field hospital fully supplied with medications, equipment, and staff. This response, explain Husain Haqqani and Aparna Pande, signifies not just humanitarian considerations but a desire to become more involved in the Middle East—made evident by a variety of diplomatic moves, among them warming relations with Israel:

India’s objective is to make sure that its interests are not left unguarded because of the vacuum created in the Middle East by Washington’s focus on peer competition with China and on Russia’s actions in Eurasia. The Middle East is a critical source of investment, energy, and remittances for India. The region also shares India’s security concerns, especially about Islamist extremism and terrorism. India wants to be ready to for any fallout from U.S. withdrawal from the greater Middle East.

Around 8.9 million Indians reside in the Gulf, with around 3.4 million in the United Arab Emirates and 2.5 million in Saudi Arabia. Fifty percent of India’s over $80 billion in remittances annually come from the Gulf countries. Trade and investment between India and Middle Eastern countries have grown exponentially over the last decade.

The United Arab Emirates is India’s third-largest global trading partner. Since the signing in 2022 of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), India’s trade with the UAE has increased by over 38 percent to $88 billion. India’s strategic partnership with the UAE is at the heart of I2U2, [a group that also includes the U.S. and Israel].

India has managed good relations with not just the Arab Gulf countries but also with Israel, Turkey, and Iran. Israel is one of the top three suppliers of defense equipment to India, with 43 percent of Israel’s arms exports being sold to India. At the same time, India has been careful not to disrupt its relations with Iran, despite geopolitical challenges.

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