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Changing Horizons Of The Middle East

May 03, 2023 18:29 IST

With developments like the Russia-China alliance and the rise of China in the Middle East, India's role has diminished though the India-Israel-US-UAE grouping may assume some importance in the future, observes Ambassador T P Sreenivasan.

IMAGE: Chinese President Xi Jinping and Arab leaders pose for a group photo during the China-Arab summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 9, 2022. Photograph: Saudi Press Agency/Handout via Reuters

Looking out of the window of a topless tower in Dubai, we could see sweeping changes taking place all around in front of our very eyes.

Till a few years ago, it was skeletons of tall buildings coming up all around, altering the skyline constantly.

Now we have to peep into the buildings to see how they are being filled with the most modern technological marvels, ranging from up to date computers to robots and artificial intelligence driven devices to replace humans.

No other city in the world seems to have adopted technology with such speed and scale.

If Dubai was the first to have erected a building by 3-D printing, it is now experimenting with administering the world through artificial intelligence with speed and efficiency.


Today, reading through Khaleej Times, one realises that geopolitical changes are gripping not only the UAE, but the entire Middle East.

Internal and external changes are taking place at lightning speed in directions considered unthinkable even weeks ago.

The main headline of the newspaper on April 18, 2023 is 'It's Official: Tehran invites Saudi King'.

The report says that Iran said it has formally invited the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, to visit Teheran, following a reconciliation agreement reached last month between the two sides under a China brokered agreement.

The picture accompanying the report is that of a detainee belonging to the Iranian backed Houthi group, released unilaterally by Saudi Arabia embracing a relative at Sanaa airport.

Next to it is a statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that normalising relations with Saudi Arabia would be a giant leap towards ending the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Facts can be stranger than fiction not only in technology, trade and European investments, which far exceed Asian activities, but also in the emergence of a new world order sweeping the world.

Even as the Russia-Ukraine war continues to cause havoc, the rest of the world is engaged in finding new alliances and business methods to build the future.

As for internal social changes, the most telling picture is one of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shaking hands with Saudi Arabia's first female astronaut ahead of the launch of the kingdom's scientific mission to the International Space Station.

IMAGE: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, right, greets Chinese President Xi Jinping in Riyadh, December 8, 2022. Photograph: Saudi Press Agency/Handout via Reuters

On April 19, 2023, a report is about Qatar and UAE restoring diplomatic ties and opening embassies more than two years after Arab states boycotted Doha that had shattered the Western allied Gulf Arab bloc.

The boycott of Qatar on the ground that it had terrorist links in Egypt sent shock waves around the world and the boycott had turned out to be a farce with the close family ties between Qatar and the UAE flourished.

The winds of change elsewhere helped resolve this anomaly, establishing cordiality among the GCC countries.

Shakespeare had said, 'When sorrows come, they come not single spice, but in battalions'.

In the Middle East, we are witnessing glad tidings coming in battalions.

The net effect of these changes is a dramatic rise in China's fortunes and a consequent diminishing of US influence.

China, which was quietly working on trade and economic relations in the region so far, has projected itself as a global power and President Xi Jingping as a builder of a community with a shared future for mankind.

It has also proved that it is capable of stealing a march over the United States in the region.

China had tried to mediate peace talks between Israel and Palestine at least five years ago without much success on account of the commanding position that the US enjoyed.

China recently increased contacts with the Arab world and Iran and last year China invited the GCC countries to hold a meeting in China.

President Xi visited Saudi Arabia last year and held several meetings of Arab leaders.

High level exchanges took place between China and Iran also, paving the way for normalisation of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The US attitude towards the Chinese role in the Middle East is likely to be negative at this moment because the US policy towards China remains ambiguous.

But in matters like the Iranian nuclear issue, the US and China may converge in the future.

A solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict may also be desirable, though there is no immediate possibility of peace breaking out on that front.

But if Saudi Arabia also recognises Israel and Iran eases its opposition to Israel, a larger settlement of the Palestine issue may be possible.

IMAGE: People are pictured outside the Dubai mall during the holy month of Ramadan, March 29, 2023. Photograph: Rula Rouhana/Reuters

India had a major role to play in the Middle East during the Cold War and soon after because India was in dialogue with all sides.

Many seminal resolutions on the Middle East were based on the drafts of skillful Indian diplomats and Israel was very tolerant of the Indian position, even though India was pro-Palestine to the core.

After the Camp David accords, when the Arab countries and Palestine sought to isolate Egypt and expel it from the NonAligned Movement, it was India which took the lead in supporting Egypt.

Though India could not participate in peace keeping operations in the Middle East because of technical objections by Israel, the role of India as a peacemaker was all too evident.

But with the more recent developments like the Russia-China alliance and the rise of China in the Middle East as against the United States, India's role has diminished though the India-Israel-US-UAE grouping (I2U2) may assume some importance in the future.

Peace is a rare commodity these days and any ray of hope of peace should be welcome.

Ambassador Sreenivasan is a frequent contributor to and you can read his earlier columns here.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/