Amidst the rocket sirens and bomb explosions, gaping wounds are exposing a gaping global power vacuum. Tectonic shifts are in motion not just in the Middle East but in the geopolitical chessboard in real-time. With the recent horrific attacks in Israel and the loss of innocent lives in Gaza, the amorphous fault lines have been forced into clear lines. But silence is acquiescence, and the delayed and deafening one from China and Russia seems to aim at one goal – undermine America’s leadership.
Living in New York City, where the Jewish population is more than Tel Aviv and Jerusalem combined, and which has been the center for rallies this last week, the emotional flooding has overwhelmed both university campuses and personal relationships.
It also reflects the conundrum the US currently finds itself in. It is argued that Israel has an inordinate impact on US foreign policy, making it partisan in this long-standing dispute. But one must objectively understand the contribution of Jewish Americans to America’s success over the last 100 years. From Wall Street to technology to health care to cutting-edge research in academia, Jewish Americans have had a significant role in America’s rise. So how can America not protect the interests of the very people who have been pivotal to its success?
That, however, makes the Arab states view it as partisan.
Long-term American policymakers believe oil will have declining relevance over the next few decades, as clean energy alternatives emerge, subduing the global ramifications of Middle East tensions. But, as this recent tragedy shows, in the short term, they have been blindsided.
America’s current focus is firmly on China and its impact on US interests globally. It is also helping Ukraine in its battle against an expansionist Putin. President Joe Biden, who does not want a Jimmy Carter redux, is struggling with 54% disapproval ratings. He is trying very hard to show he has things under control. America’s plate is currently clearly full.
The European Union, despite its historical relevance, is losing strategic and economic depth, and without Angela Merkel – considered the only grown-up in the room – it lacks political will and cohesion. Russia, which managed a high-wire act between the Arab States and Israel, is slowly going into China’s orbit, and through that, forming a close relationship with Iran. The instability of war also benefits Russia, because of its economy’s correlation to oil and arms exports and a deflection to its own battle in Ukraine.
China’s foreign policy is dictated by Confucianism, which makes it extremely pragmatic in its approach. It does not like to get deeply involved in any dispute unless it provides material benefits to its national interests. China’s eye on Taiwan due to its high-end semiconductor facilities and US attempts to thwart those efforts make this Middle East conflict a convenient global distraction.
Saudi Arabia is the last peace broker in the region. However, according to the Washington Policy Institute, even though the majority of Saudis want to do business with Israelis irrespective of conflict, they prioritise a religious agenda, with the Al Aqsa mosque being at the center, over Palestinian independence.
This vacuum of global leadership is searching for a peacemaker.
India historically has had a very good relationship with the Arab nations and has a large expat population in the Middle East. It would have been a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation – given that its Muslim population is almost equal to 33 members of the organisation – were it not for Pakistan. It also has a historical relationship with Iran going back thousands of years, a country that was its neighbour until 1947. Importantly, India has been sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, hosts a Palestinian ambassador, and has supported many UN resolutions over the years calling for the two-state solution.
When I interviewed Saudi Princess Basma Bint Saud, I remember her saying India’s potential in the Middle East needs to be leveraged. “We have so much in common – the way we look, what we eat, and our culture, and it is much easier to invest in something you understand,” she told me. The longstanding Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb is an asset that carries diplomatic weight.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a deep and ideological bond with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and the two call each other close friends. Modi was one of the first global leaders to unequivocally condemn the Hamas attacks, speak directly to Bibi, and offer unconditional support. New Delhi wants the recently announced India-Middle East economic corridor to become a reality. The ambitious project will connect the Arab states, Israel, and Europe with India economically and strategically.
India has asserted itself in difficult geopolitical conflicts in recent years. With the purchase of Russian oil during the Ukraine war it has shown it can adroitly manage the global diplomatic tightrope. With the inclusion of the African Union in the recently held G20 summit, India demonstrated it can be the voice of the Global South.
India’s significant “geopolitical trust capital” has taken decades of careful diplomacy and intricate relationships to cultivate. This accrued capital can be used to facilitate the unthinkable – lasting Middle East peace. Once the bombs stop dropping, the two sides will not listen to each other but might listen to India.
India needs to be in that room, because if not so, who will?
(Namrata Brar is an Indian-American journalist, investigative reporter, and news anchor. She is the former US bureau chief of String Reveals)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.