West Asia Is Now a Geopolitical Reality
The future Indo-Abrahamic bloc will not just be a strategic anchor of U.S. interests in the region; it will be the basis of a favorable balance of power that maintains peace and security in West Asia.
On July 13, President Joe Biden will attend the first-ever leaders’ summit of the United States, UAE, India, and Israel. Occurring during Biden’s major trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel, the summit affirms the rise of a new geopolitical reality: the emergence of West Asia. This new integrated region—always nascent—was suddenly birthed amid the twin geopolitical shocks of the fall of Kabul and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Coupled with widening Arab-Israeli rapprochement and India’s realignment from Iran to the Arab Gulf states, the emergence of West Asia has unleashed an unprecedented opportunity to pull together the siloed threads of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and South Asia.
West Asia is a geographic system linked through peace and conflict. Changing geopolitical realities have brought together traditionally odd regional powers—India, Israel, and the UAE—into a “warm peace” that seeks deeper economic and security integration. In the same system are Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan, which act independently and assertively to advance their own interests in the region, sometimes with the help of outside powers such as Russia and China. West Asia is now a geopolitical reality, and policymakers around the world should incorporate the Middle East and South Asia into a new West Asia paradigm that captures the new geopolitical reality.
The Geopolitics of the Abraham Accords
Mutual fears in Israel and the Gulf from Iran’s expansionist foreign policy across West Asia created an incentive to move forward with an unpreceded geopolitical move: the Abraham Accords, an agreement that not only normalizes Israel’s relations with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco but also creates geopolitical and geo-economic synergies between the four nations. (By contrast, the derailing of Sudan’s democratic transition and subsequent freezing of $700 million in U.S. assistance casts a shadow over Sudanese-Israeli rapprochement.) Nothing symbolizes the significance of the Abraham Accords more than the recently signed trade agreement between Israel and the UAE, coming amid increased tourism, cooperation in technology and cyber, and intelligence sharing.
Deeper in the Persian Gulf, Bahrain and Israel are expanding their strategic and security relations to address perceived Iranian threats. As part of an international maritime task force, an Israeli navy officer will soon be stationed at the U.S. 5th Fleet’s headquarters in Bahrain. In North Africa, Morocco, another Abraham Accords signatory, has played a major role in smoothing U.S.-UAE bilateral relations after a short-lived fallout over the United States’ delayed response to the Houthi attack on the UAE. Morocco is becoming an integral strategic partner for the United States in Africa. For instance, the country is set to become a maintenance hub for U.S. F-16 fighter jets and C-130 gunships.
The Abraham Accords afford Israel more strategic leverage and maneuverability vis-à-vis Iran by magnifying Tehran’s two-front problem: Iran now faces increasingly aggressive rivals in two separate theaters—the Arabian Gulf and the Caucasus, where Israel is a strategic partner to Azerbaijan. In the longer term, the Abraham Accords could motivate other Arab and Muslim nations to normalize relations with Israel under the Trump administration-brokered agreement. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is taking a backseat to the realpolitik of the Abraham Accords, which is radically reordering the geopolitics of the region.
Dismantling Decades-Old Foreign Policy Taboos
In July 2021, I wrote a long essay for the Middle East Institute, arguing that a unique alliance could emerge between India, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates. In my view, the Abraham Accords are a definitive geopolitical breakthrough that changed decades of Israeli and Gulf states’ foreign policy orthodoxy. The Abraham Accords also coincided with India’s rise as a player in West Asia. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, New Delhi deepened its political and strategic relations with the UAE and Israel, creating a wider “Indo-Abrahamic” regional bloc.
The Indo-Abrahamic bloc took on a more formal shape with Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosting the first U.S.-Israel-India-UAE foreign ministers summit last October. Washington’s objectives in this format are clear: 1) doing more with less in the Middle East, and 2) preventing Moscow and Beijing from filling the strategic and security vacuum that results from a potential U.S. departure from the region. The Indo-Abrahamic bloc fulfills these two strategic objectives for Washington. Tel Aviv, New Delhi, and Abu Dhabi are willing and capable partners who are investing in their military and security capabilities to avoid dependence on U.S. security commitments—something that Washington also doesn’t want.
Gulf capitals aren’t blind to the new consensus in Washington that the United States has overcommitted to the Middle East—mainly the Persian Gulf states—at the expense of Asia. By tying participation in the Indo-Abrahamic bloc to normalization with Israel, Washington has created a powerful impetus to drive countries like Saudi Arabia—which already has shared regional interests with Israel in containing Iran—to more quickly normalize relations and benefit from the emerging warm peace.
As Washington seeks to rebalance away from the region to the Indo-Pacific to contain China’s hegemonic ambitions, it needs a regional security architecture to fill the strategic vacuum. Washington’s pivot to the Indo-Pacific meant a complete overhaul of the mental map of the Middle East as a region, leading to the emergence of “West Asia” as a geopolitical construct. The inclusion of India in this security architecture for this new envisioned map is a strategic necessity, geographic reality, and historic tradition, which all make New Delhi a significant power in the Middle East as well as the Indo-Pacific.
Independent Actors: Turkey, Iran, Pakistan
Separate from the Indo-Abrahamic bloc are three middle powers—Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan—who believe that the Arab moment has passed. Ankara, Tehran, and Islamabad each believe that because of their demography, geography, and history, their time in the sun finally arrived. All three are competing to reshape West Asia’s geopolitics and geo-economics through unilateral military and economic moves. Turkey’s actions on its southern border against Kurdish militias; Iran’s network of proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen; and Pakistan’s active role in Afghanistan are each expressions of this sentiment.
These three actors are also drawing external great powers, namely China and Russia, to shape a favorable regional balance of power. Pakistan, a historic U.S. ally, has turned to China as its dominant economic and political partner. Russia is transforming its bilateral relations with Pakistan, while India, a historic Russian ally, is drifting further to the West. Iran—which has a historically complex relationship with Russia as both ally and adversary—is deepening its economic ties with Beijing through a proposed twenty-five-year strategic partnership and increased oil sales.
Turkey, a NATO member state, has been pursuing its own path as a resilient middle power that doesn’t shy away from confronting great powers, including its treaty ally, the United States, and its frenemy, the Russian Federation. Turkey’s engagement in multiple theaters from Libya to Sudan, from the eastern Mediterranean to the Caucasus, and from Niger to Somalia, has given it leverage to play great powers against one another while advancing its core interests.
The rise of these independent actors—and their relationships with China and Russia—make the Indo-Abrahamic bloc an even more salient strategic concept. As the administration juggles competing national security priorities, from mobilizing international support in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; to containing Iran’s nuclear program; to deterring Chinese action in the Taiwan Straits; it is more important than ever to have a strong and multilateral anchor in West Asia that will be favorable to U.S. national security interests.
The planned leaders-level summit between the United States, India, Israel, and the UAE is a good next step towards the actualization of the Indo-Abrahamic bloc, which is so far limited to coordinating policy at the foreign ministers’ level. Biden should further formalize the bloc by establishing a 2+2 dialogue, a format that brings together foreign and defense ministers and can help the four countries coordinate their efforts on cyber, maritime, and missile defense.
The most tangible area of cooperation is a U.S.-backed missile and air defense shield that includes the Gulf, Israel, and (eventually) India. The existing legislative proposal—introduced by the Congressional Abraham Accords Caucus—is centered around providing the Gulf allies and Israel with “integrated air and missile defense capability to protect the people, infrastructure, and territory of such countries from the cruise and ballistic missiles, manned and unmanned aerial systems, and rocket attacks from Iran, and for other purposes.” Although the technology still needs to be developed, adding India to this long-term project will serve two goals. First, in the longer term, this missile shield program provides New Delhi with a tangible alternative to the Russian S-400. Second, it creates a concrete basis for cooperation that will protect all members against malign regional and global actors.
The Indo-Abrahamic bloc provides India, Israel, the United States, and UAE as well as the potential additional partners such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea with an innovative strategic framework that overcomes old standing strategic dilemmas. The Indo-Abrahamic bloc can help bridge the gap between Washington’s intention to dedicate fewer resources and bandwidth to West Asia while creating a Washington-backed, bottom-up internationalized security architecture in the region.