In Gaza, India, Israel, Middle East, Yemen

India gets a rude awakening in West Asia

Britain’s HMS Diamond deploys missiles to attack Yemen / Photo Credit: Indian Punchline

originally written by M.K. Bhadrakumar, published 12 January 2024 on Indian Punchline

 

From the standpoint of affirming ‘solidarity’ with the regime of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the October 7 attack, India has swung away to the far horizon and has unceremoniously dumped the US-Israeli axis, which provided beacon light to Delhi’s West Asian policies in the past few years. 

From a strategic asset, the Israeli connection is becoming a liability for the Indian government. Delhi spurned Netanyahu’s repeated entreaties to brand Hamas as a terrorist organisation — by the way, India never pointed finger at Hamas for the October 7 attack. It has resumed the traditional stance of voting against Israel in the UN General Assembly resolutions on the Palestine problem. The Netanyahu-Modi pow-vows have become infrequent. 

This is a far cry from the controversial gesture by PM Modi during his ‘historic’ five-day visit to Israel in 2017 to pay homage at the tomb of the founding father of Zionism Theodor Herzl in Haifa . It is doubtful if any Indian prime minister would repeat Modi’s feat in future. With reasonable certainty, it can be said that the future of Zionism in West Asia itself looks rather bleak.

Again, for reasons that remain obscure even today, India decided to be a strong votary of the ill-fated Abraham Accords that purportedly aimed at ‘integrating’ Israel into the Arab fold but, in reality, to isolate Iran in its neighbourhood. Delhi never provided a rational explanation for such a dramatic shift in the traditional policy not to take sides in the intra-regional fratricidal strife in West Asia or identify with the US hegemony in that region. 

Delhi followed up by enthusiastically lining up with a surreal venture called ‘I2U2’ which brought together India and the UAE with the US and Israel as a condominium to promote the spirit of the Abraham Accords. In an extravagant gesture, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar paid a 5-day visit to Israel to participate in ‘I2U2’.  

Above all, Delhi, which hosted the G20 Summit last year and was supposedly highlighting the rise of the Global South in the world order, instead ended up arranging photo-ops for the visiting US President who hijacked the event and instead catapulted a phoney,  laughable idea as the main outcome of that historic event — the so-called India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEEC). 

The US apparently incentivised Delhi by planting a patently absurd thought that IMEEC would toll the death knell for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China of course retaliated by just hoisting the BRI flag high all over the Maldives (population: 515,132 in the 2022 census) on India’s soft underbelly from where it is visible all over the subcontinent day and night.

However, Indian diplomats are quick learners and course corrections come naturally to them. Delhi has understood that such absurdities in its West Asian policy will do no good and may even be counterproductive as they raise hackles in the Arab Street. Thus, Qatar ticked off India recently by ordering the 15 Indian schools in Doha that cater to the needs of the largely-Hindu 700,000-strong Indian ex-patriate community to ignore Hindu holidays, especially Diwali. 

Consistent with the championing of the Global South, India should have voiced support for South Africa’s brilliant initiative to petition the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to bring Israel to justice for its genocide of Palestinians in Gaza. After all, it was in South Africa that Mahatma Gandhi had finessed the concept of resistance to racialism. But, alas, India lacked the courage of conviction and the moral fibre to do so. 

It is too much to expect the ICJ to put Netanyahu in a cage and try him in the Hague court for his abominable acts against humanity. But there is a strong likelihood that with tacit western support, the ICJ may issue in the coming weeks some sort of interim order for a ceasefire. And in the present atmosphere, that can prove to be a game changer.

All this makes India’s decision to stay clear of the US’ harebrained idea of disciplining Yemen’s Houthis a sensible step. The theatre of the absurd playing out in the Red Sea with the Five Eyes in the cockpit is incredibly complicated. One main vector there is about the phenomenon of the Houthi resistance as such. 

An old friend and Beirut-based editor-in-chief of the Cradle, Sharmine Narwani twitted about the quagmire in the Red Sea that awaits the Anglo-American attack on Yemen today:

“I honestly question whether the US or UK have carefully considered #Yemen‘s potential responses to this act of war. Ansarallah (Houthi) is an unusual member of the region’s Axis of Resistance. It marches to its own tune and its mindset is entirely devoid of western narrative grooming. There is no guessing at the full spectrum of its retaliatory palette, but I would not want to be an American or Brit in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, or any of the neighbouring waterways right now.

“It may be that Washington misread the Russian and Chinese abstentions at the UNSC yesterday (on Red Sea). Or, perhaps Moscow and Beijing dangled that bait so the US would miscalculate this badly. The Americans are now militarily engaged, supplying, or bogged down on 5 separate fronts: Ukraine, Gaza-Israel, Yemen, Iraq, Syria. US adversaries can easily hold out until the fatigue sets in; they are nowhere near depleted. 

“Bottom line is I think the entire Global South is going to be wearing Abdul Malik al-Houthi t-shirts by springtime.”

Indeed, it is such prescience that is often lacking in India’s West Asia strategy. This is not a region for one-dimensional men. It has been a strategic mistake to be aligned to the US and its allies in the Indian Ocean under the rubric of ‘maritime security’. The erstwhile colonial powers are innovating Neo-mercantile mechanisms to transfer wealth to their metropolis. Why should Indians act as ‘coolies’, as during British rule? 

Most important, India should be seized of the Renaissance that is sweeping through the Muslim countries in West Asia. It is epochal in its sweep and has cultural, political and economic dimensions — and will inevitably have far-reaching geopolitical significance. That is why, it becomes imperative that Delhi stops viewing the region though Netanyahu’s Zionist eyes. It is important to terminate India’s collaboration with the US and colonial powers such as France and the UK to interfere in the region on the pretext of maritime security in the Indian Ocean. 

India has no reason to have institutionalised partnerships with the US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT). In a conceivable future, the curtain could well be descending on the western military bases in West Asia. Delhi should grasp the reality that something fundamentally changed post-October 7 in the geopolitics of West Asia. 

It is in sync with what Germans call the zeitgeist (spirit of the times) that Saudi Arabia is demanding that the security of the Red Sea is an international responsibility in cooperation with the riparian countries and UN support. Since 2018, Saudi Arabia has called for the establishment of a Council of States bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, and in 2020, eight countries signed the Council’s founding charter, who include, ironically, Yemen. Saudi Arabia plans to host a summit meeting of the Council of States. 

Today’s Anglo-American missile strike against Yemen should come as a rude awakening to India messaging that the very same western powers who are backing Israel are also escalating the conflict in Gaza and step by step transforming it as a regional conflict — all in the name of freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. Unsurprisingly, Saudi Arabia, the regional superpower in the Red Sea, has called on the US to exercise restraint.  

*****

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