India treads carefully amid rising Middle East tensions

New Delhi — Mounting hostility between Israel and Iran is creating a diplomatic problem for India, which has long-standing and important relations with both countries.

Kallol Bhattacherjee, a senior foreign affairs analyst, says in the event of an Iran-Israel war, New Delhi cannot afford to support or oppose either of them.

Speaking to VOA, Bhattacherjee said 7 million Indians work in the Gulf countries and send more than $90 billion in foreign exchange to India annually. In the event of a war in the Middle East, Indian workers will be the most affected and remittances will stop.

Senior foreign affairs analyst Umashankar Singh says India has a strategic relationship with Israel and has a historical relationship with Iran.

He said India and Israel have been cooperating in various fields, including defense and technology, for decades, and Israel is the largest supplier of arms to India.

According to him, Iran was the second-largest supplier of oil to India before sanctions were imposed on it due to its nuclear program. Although India has not been able to buy oil from Iran for the past four years, the two countries still have close relations.

India and Iran signed a defense pact in 2002, while New Delhi has invested in the construction of Iran’s Chabahar Port.

According to Bhattacherjee, Iran has helped India on issues including relations with Central Asian countries, communications with the Taliban and other security and defense matters.

Iran, Russia and India established the multilateral corridor model in September 2000 to promote cooperation in the transport sector. Later, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, Oman, Syria and Bulgaria were included in this corridor.

The number of Indian workers in Iran is not high. According to India’s ministry of external affairs, there are 4,000 Indian immigrants in Iran, while 18,000 Indians are working in Israel, many of them as caregivers, according to The Hindu newspaper. Another 6,000 are expected to arrive shortly to fill construction jobs left vacant by Palestinians because of the Israel-Hamas war, the newspaper said. 

India and Israel had signed an agreement to send another 1,500 Indian workers to Israel, of whom the first group of 65 people arrived on April 2. The dispatch of a second group was postponed because of the threat of further Iran-Israel conflict.

Naor Gilon, Israeli ambassador in India, has said protection will be provided to the Indian workers.

This story originated in VOA’s Urdu Service. 

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