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Conflicts in West Asia and India West Asia Relations

2024 JAN 27

Mains   > International relations   >   India and Global Regions   >   India & West Asia

Syllabus: GS 2 > International relations   >   India and Global Regions   >   India & West Asia


  • The conflict in West Asia, initially between Israel and Hamas, has evolved into a major regional crisis. It now includes various groups and nations like Hezbollah, Kataib Hezbollah, Hashad al-Shabi, Houthis, Iran, Pakistan, and the USA. The intense conflict in Gaza, marked by Israel's military campaign causing over 24,000 deaths in 100 days, shows no signs of ending, further destabilizing the region.


  • West Asia, a region of the Asian continent, is surrounded by Europe to the west, Central Asia to the north, South Asia to the east, and the Arabian Sea and Africa to the south. 
  • It stands at a crucial junction between continents, featuring diverse terrains like deserts, river valleys, and mountains. This region is notable for its historical depth, cultural richness, and significant natural resources, particularly oil and gas.


  • Houthi Attacks in the Red Sea:
    • The Houthi militia in Yemen targeted Red Sea shipping in solidarity with Palestinians, disrupting a key trade route linking the Mediterranean Sea, Arabian Sea, and Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal and Bab el-Mandeb Strait. The Houthis' actions have raised serious concerns about maritime security in these vital international shipping lanes, causing some shipping companies to suspend operations in the area.
  • U.S. Military Response in Yemen: 
    • The United States, supporting Israel, carried out airstrikes in Yemen targeting Houthi positions. This was a direct response to the Houthis' threat to Red Sea traffic.
  • Hezbollah's Involvement
    • Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Lebanese Shia group, launched rocket attacks against Israeli forces in solidarity with the Palestinians. This led to repeated exchanges of fire between Hezbollah and Israel, with both sides avoiding escalation to full-scale war.
  • Actions by Hashad al-Shabi and U.S. Retaliation
    • The Shia militias, Hashad al-Shabi in Iraq and Syria, have launched attacks against U.S. forces, leading to U.S. military retaliation, including a targeted attack in Baghdad.
  • Resurgence of Terrorist Activities: 
    • The growing regional instability has seen a resurgence in terrorist activities, including an attack by the Islamic State group in Iran.
  • Israeli Strikes and Regional Instability:
    •  Israel's strikes in Syria and Lebanon against Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iranian commanders have further complicated the regional dynamics.
  • Iran's Military Actions
    • Iran, under pressure, has conducted strikes in Iraq's Kurdistan, Syria, and Pakistan, targeting alleged Mossad centers and militants.
  • Pakistan's Retaliatory Strikes:  
    • Following Iran's military actions, Pakistan conducted airstrikes in Iran.




  • Energy Security:  
    • A major aspect of West Asia's importance for India is energy security. India imports a substantial portion of its oil and natural gas from countries in West Asia, with Saudi Arabia and Iraq being major suppliers. For instance, West Asia contributes nearly 40% of India's oil and a significant 70% of its gas needs.
  • Economic Significance
    • West Asia is a key trading partner for India. Indian businesses have made considerable investments in this region, especially in sectors like infrastructure, construction, and technology. The economic ties are bolstered by various agreements and partnerships, such as the India-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
  • Indian Diaspora:  
    • There is a large Indian diaspora in West Asian countries, especially in the Gulf region. This diaspora plays a significant role in the economic and cultural spheres of these countries. For example, out of about 32 million non-resident Indians (NRIs), nearly half are estimated to be working in Gulf countries.
  • Cultural Ties:  
    • India shares a long history of cultural exchanges with West Asian countries. This includes the establishment of cultural centers in several countries in the region, which help in promoting mutual understanding and cooperation. Eg: The Indian Cultural Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, The Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre (SVCC) in Tehran, Iran etc.
  • Counter-Terrorism and Radicalization
    • Cooperation with West Asian countries is key for India in countering terrorism and radicalization. The geographical proximity and the rise of terror outfits like the Islamic State make this cooperation essential for regional security.
  • Strategic Location
    • West Asia's geographical location is strategically important for India, serving as a gateway to landlocked and resource-rich Central Asia as well as Europe and playing a key role in India's extended neighbourhood policy.
    • For instance, projects like the Chabahar port in Iran, which enhances India's connectivity to Central Asia.
  • Defence Cooperation
    • India has been deepening its defence cooperation with several countries in West Asia, such as the United Arab Emirates and Oman. This includes military-to-military exchanges, training, and defence production collaboration. For instance, Oman has granted India access to the Port of Duqm for military purposes and logistical support, which is a significant step in bolstering India's presence in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • Political Challenges
    • The internal security situations in countries like Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, and the broader regional tensions, require careful navigation by India to maintain balanced relations.
  • Balancing Relations
    • India strives to balance its relations with key players in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel, despite their rivalries. This balancing act is crucial for maintaining India’s strategic interests in the region.


  • Regional Crisis:
    • Despite these strong ties, the region's political instability and complex geopolitical dynamics pose challenges for India.
    • For instance, the expansion of the Israel-Hamas conflict into a broader regional crisis has significantly complicated the geopolitical landscape of West Asia, impacting India's foreign policy considerations.
  • Balancing Relations with Rival States
    • India maintains a balanced diplomatic approach in the region, managing relations with countries that have historically been in conflict, such as Israel and Iran, or Saudi Arabia and Iran.
  • Lack of a Comprehensive Policy:
    • Unlike the Act East policy, India has not established a comprehensive West Asia policy despite the regions having similar geopolitical significance.
  • Impact of External Powers: 
    • The influence of major powers like the USA, Russia, and China in West Asia affects India's interests. The dynamics of these external powers can complicate India’s foreign policy decisions in the region.
  • Cultural and Religious Sensitivities
    • Given the diverse cultural and religious landscape of West Asia, India often finds itself managing sensitive issues that may arise, impacting bilateral relations.For instance, Balanced Stance on Israel-Palestine Conflict.
  • Terrorism and Security Issues: 
    • The threat of terrorism, originating from or supported by elements within some West Asian countries, remains a concern for India.
  • Energy Dependence
    • India heavily relies on West Asian countries for its energy needs, especially oil and gas. Fluctuations in oil prices or disruptions in supply due to geopolitical tensions can significantly impact India's economy. For instance, the 2019 Aramco attacks indeed highlighted the vulnerabilities and risks associated with India's heavy reliance on oil imports, particularly from a geopolitically volatile region like West Asia.


  • Developing a Comprehensive West Asia Policy: Formulating a comprehensive and coherent policy towards West Asia, akin to the Act East policy, can provide a structured framework for India's engagement with the region.
  • Diversifying Energy Sources: Given the heavy reliance on West Asian countries for energy, India should further diversify its energy sources to reduce vulnerability to regional instabilities. 
  • Counter-Terrorism Collaboration: Deepening counter-terrorism cooperation with West Asian countries is vital. This includes intelligence sharing, joint training exercises, and collaborative efforts to combat radicalization and terrorism financing.
  • Balanced Approach to Conflict Resolution: India should continue its balanced approach to regional conflicts, avoiding taking sides in internal conflicts while advocating for peaceful resolutions. This approach helps in maintaining good relations with conflicting parties.
  • Investment in Regional Infrastructure Projects: India should invest in strategic regional infrastructure projects, like the Chabahar port in Iran, to improve connectivity and strengthen its geopolitical position.
  • Cultural and Educational Exchanges: Promoting cultural and educational exchanges can enhance mutual understanding and goodwill, which is essential in a region with diverse cultural and religious backgrounds.
  • Strategic Defence Cooperation: Strengthening defence ties with key West Asian countries, through joint military exercises, defence technology collaboration, and strategic military agreements, can enhance India's security presence and capabilities in the region.
  • Monitoring and Adapting to Geopolitical Shifts: Continuously monitoring the region's dynamic geopolitical landscape and being ready to adapt its strategy accordingly is crucial for India to safeguard its interests and respond effectively to emerging challenges.


“The complex and evolving situation in West Asia, especially with the expansion of the Israel-Hamas conflict into a broader regional crisis, presents significant challenges and considerations for India”. Discuss. (10 marks, 150 words)