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With announcements on UNGA sidelines, I2U2 ‘goes well beyond meetings, declarations’

The Israeli, Indian, Emerati and U.S. group is becoming more of a concrete entity, Asher Fredman, director for Israel at the Abraham Accords Peace Institute, told JNS.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the Abu Dhabi Space Debate during a visit to the United Arab Emirates, Dec. 5, 2022. Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the Abu Dhabi Space Debate during a visit to the United Arab Emirates, Dec. 5, 2022. Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.

The I2U2—a collaborative effort between Israel, India, the United States and the United Arab Emirates—is aiming to make its efforts more tangible, following a series of announcements on Thursday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Senior officials from the group met during the UNGA in New York City and took several steps, including agreeing to cooperate on an Israeli space initiative that aims to use forecasting satellites to establish an information center on climate change, per a joint meeting readout. The initiative is slated to be unveiled at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (known as the COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, this December.

The I2U2 also created a portal on its website for those in the private business sector to submit proposals for consideration in the group’s areas, including food security, water, energy, transportation, space and health with an emphasis on technology, infrastructure and connectivity.

I2U2 countries inked a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S.-UAE Business Council, the UAE-India Business Council and the UAE-Israel Business Council to further that effort, establishing the I2U2 Private Enterprise Partnership.

The public-private forum will aim to increase awareness of the I2U2 in relevant business communities and to support projects furthering the goals of the initiative, which seeks to create regional strategic economic initiatives shared by the four countries.

The I2U2 was created in October 2021, following the establishment of the 2020 Abraham Accords normalization agreements between Israel and majority-Muslim nations in the Gulf and Africa.

Thursday’s meeting in New York was led by Ronen Levi, director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry; as well as U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Jose Fernandez, UAE Minister of State Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh and Indian Ministry of External Affairs Secretary Dammu Ravi.

Representatives of the three business councils joined the event remotely.

Asher Fredman, director for Israel of the Abraham Accords Peace Institute. Credit: Abraham Accords Peace Institute.

‘Input from business experts’

The announcements are a sign that the I2U2 is turning from a series of virtual meetings and mission statements into something more concrete, according to Asher Fredman, director for Israel at the Abraham Accords Peace Institute and a founding member of the UAE-Israel Business Council.

“They’ve now established a structure for the forum, criteria for the selection of projects and high-level points of contact,” he told JNS. “This goes well beyond meetings and declarations.”

The private-public partnership aspect is particularly notable and gives the business community access to government officials and resources, networking opportunities and wide public exposure for their companies and projects, according to Fredman.

“In return, the I2U2 is getting this kind of crowdsourcing, gaining input from business experts on critical projects that will benefit all four countries—something very difficult for these governments to do on their own,” he said.

The first Israeli lunar spacecraft (covered, at left), named “Beresheet,” was loaded into a special shipping container on Jan. 17, 2019, in Israel to be flown to Florida ahead of SpaceIL’s historic mission to the moon on Feb. 21, 2019. Photo by Tomer Levi.

‘Missions into space’

Fredman predicted that the space sector could be a major focus for the I2U2, noting the cooperation on the Israeli space initiative.

“You have three countries that have all fairly recently launched missions into space,” he said. “It bodes well for advancing projects in what is called NewSpace.” (That term refers to the emerging commercial space industry.)

NASA announced earlier this year that it will launch Israel’s first space telescope mission in 2026. The lunar mission “Beresheet,” launched by Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL, crash-landed on the moon’s surface in 2019. A second operation, “Beresheet 2.0” is in the works.

The Emirates Mars Mission launched the “Hope” probe in 2019, an uncrewed space exploration mission that began orbiting Mars in February 2021.

Earlier this month, India launched its first spacecraft—dedicated to studying the sun—fewer than two weeks after its space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization, landed its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft on the lunar surface.

Robert Greenway, president and executive director of the Abraham Accords Peace Institute. Credit: Abraham Accords Peace Institute.

‘A new Middle Eastern order’

India is currently dealing with a diplomatic row with Canada. Ottawa accuses New Delhi of ordering the murder in June of a Sikh separatist living in British Columbia. India has rejected the charge.

Some experts say that Washington and others can play a wait-and-see game for the moment, but if the accusations prove true, they could complicate international relations with New Delhi. That could disrupt the I2U2 and the India-Middle East-Europe “economic corridor,” a major project announced at the G20 summit earlier this month.

India serves as a lynchpin of both initiatives.

A senior Israeli government official downplayed the potential implications of the India-Canada spat in a conversation with JNS.

“India has been a close partner of ours, and the corridor may not create a new world order but certainly a new Middle Eastern order,” the official said.

The official extolled the benefits that Israel would obtain from the transit connection to the rest of the region and said that the issue with Ottawa did not come up a few days ago when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The benefits of partnering with India will almost certainly outweigh the controversy over the alleged killing, as has been seen with the U.S.-Saudi Arabia relationship, according to Fredman. Saudi agents killed Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

“Security interests and economic interests generally trump these kinds of episodes in the long term,” he said. “I would expect India would remain in good standing in the I2U2 and in other projects with Israel.”

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