July 27, 2022

IntelBrief: “I2U2:” A Diverse Grouping Pursuing Common Objectives

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Bottom Line up Front

  • The newly-formed “I2U2” multilateral partnership between the United States, Israel, India, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will bolster cooperation on strategic objectives, but members differ on some key issues.
  • At least initially, the I2U2 grouping is focused primarily on addressing global challenges such as water and energy security.
  • India will benefit from the grouping’s multilateral investments, but India’s policies toward Iran remain at odds with those of its fellow I2U2 members.
  • The UAE’s rapprochement with Israel was pivotal to the formation of the I2U2 grouping, but the range of political cultures among the group, and the different currents within their own countries, may limit what the group can achieve together.

A multilateral group comprising the United States, Israel, India, and the UAE - “I2U2” - formed in October 2021 and, following a virtual summit of its leaders, issued its first joint statement on July 14, 2022. Its members have divergent histories and views on some of the major strategic issues, causing the new partnership to, at least initially, limit its discussions to relatively “non-controversial” functional issues. According to their joint statement, the four countries will “tackle some of the greatest challenges confronting our world, with a particular focus on joint investments and new initiatives in water, energy, transportation, space, health, and food security.”

The I2U2 has developed a number of incentives to court its members, including a series of ventures that will promote development in India and afford investors in the U.S., Israel, and the UAE new opportunities. The I2U2 announced that the UAE – home to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and host of COP28 in 2023 – will invest $2 billion to develop a series of integrated food parks across India that will incorporate state-of-the-art climate-smart technologies to conserve fresh water and employ renewable energy sources. The U.S. and Israeli private sectors will be invited to contribute expertise and capital to the project. The group announced that the U.S. government will fund a $300 million feasibility study for a renewable energy project in India’s Gujarat State, consisting of 300 megawatts of wind and solar capacity complemented by a battery energy storage system. UAE-based companies, with assistance from U.S. and Israeli companies, may serve as critical investors for the venture. The statement also indicated an intent to make India a global hub for alternate supply chains in the renewable energy sector, and welcomed India’s interest in joining the United States, the UAE, and Israel in the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate initiative (AIM for Climate).

Aside from common interest in joint investments on functional issues, it remains difficult to assess what geostrategic or regional commonalities bind the diverse I2U2 grouping together. The divergent political cultures in the various member states as well as many of the complex sociopolitical dynamics in each of the states raises questions about what common objectives or perspectives bond the countries together. One possibility is that it opens up investment and development opportunities that build on burgeoning political partnerships and offsets the potential influence of Russia in states that have had strong diplomatic and development relationships with it.

The joint statement affirmed the group’s support for the “Abraham Accords” - the September 2020 pact providing for the normalization of relations between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain, which was later joined by Morocco and Sudan. The statement welcomed the economic opportunities that flow from the Accords, “including for the advancement of economic cooperation in the Middle East and South Asia, and in particular for the promotion of sustainable investment amongst the I2U2 partners.” The reference to the Abraham Accords suggests, to some, that a key purpose of the I2U2 grouping is to further Israel’s already broadening acceptance in the region. Supporting that analysis, the joint statement also referenced support for the recently-formed “Negev Forum” that groups the United States, Israel, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, and the UAE.

While India has significantly improved its relations with Israel over the past few decades, it has historically supported the Palestinian cause. India’s leaders are critical of what New Delhi sees as the unwillingness of recent Israeli governments to support a two-state solution to the conflict and its continued building of Jewish settlements on territory that the Palestinians claim. In recent years, and particularly after their signing of the Abraham Accords, UAE leaders have been criticized domestically and in the region for reducing the country’s longstanding support for the Palestinian national movement in favor of a partnership with Israel to balance against Iran and it remains to be seen how publics in the region respond to the agreements in the long-term.

The members of the I2U2 are far from reaching a consensus on the growing strategic threat posed by Iran; even that is not their primary focus. Israel’s leaders oppose the Biden administration’s decision to negotiate with Tehran toward a return to full compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Although UAE leaders normalized relations with Israel in large part to counter Iran, the Emiratis also maintain a dialogue with Tehran to reduce regional tensions and reportedly view recent Israeli covert operations inside Iran as counterproductive. In contrast to its I2U2 partners, India has diplomatic relations with Iran, and even conducts joint naval exercises with Iran as part of a larger security cooperation relationship. Unsurprisingly, India advocates the lifting of U.S. sanctions that prevent it from buying Iranian oil. India and Iran also view the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul with particular alarm. The UAE, by contrast, engages with the Taliban and recently signed an accord with Taliban leadership to manage Afghanistan’s civilian airports.

The regional policy distinctions among the I2U2 countries suggest that the forum’s members will focus on their stated economic, climate change, and other functional objectives. In spite of their differences, U.S. officials hope that the grouping can evolve into a significant player. On July 13, while en route with President Biden to Israel and Saudi Arabia, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan stated that: “...we think I2U2 can become a feature of the broader region, just as the Quad (United States, India, Japan, and Australia) has become a central pillar of the Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States.”