Cooperation among UAE, Singapore and Israel set to strengthen ties, regional platform
Published Originally in Gulf News
As relations between the Middle East and Asia expand, small but dynamic countries such as the UAE, Singapore, and Israel have an increasingly significant role to play in shaping the regional momentum. They are small competitive states with strong bilateral ties, be it longstanding or burgeoning in many economic and strategic domains.
All three countries are not only surviving but thriving in difficult neighbourhoods. They cannot be shielded from the geopolitical impact of any major incident. With each country showcasing success using its unique strengths to overcome challenges, it would be mutually beneficial if they expand their bilateral relations to tap the benefits of trilateral or minilateral partnerships.
This is a form of diplomacy that is gaining traction in a fragmented world, dominated by superpower rivalry. It creates a new instrument of diplomacy that enables going beyond regional blocs to find ad hoc solutions to issues of common interest. Abraham Accords and its effect This new diplomatic environment was triggered by the Abraham Accords and its effect on Asia-Middle East cooperation. This was evidently demonstrated by the I2U2 (India, Israel, UAE, and US) grouping. Cross-regional cooperation now offers the UAE, Singapore and Israel the chance to craft a buffer against the growing challenges to their regions emanating from intensifying US-China competition. The three countries are each looking to either explore, expand cooperation or add value in areas like technology, artificial intelligence and space technology. The UAE has particularly made rapid advancement in the space sector in recent years.
Israel’s relationship with Singapore and the UAE was born out of necessity and has since evolved. Singapore has regional expertise on Asia while the UAE and Israel can provide insight on the Middle East. Given the fact that Singapore tried to serve as a bridge between the two regions in the past via the Asia-Middle East Dialogue, a trilateral format could revive that process.
Each of the three countries is a powerhouse in their respective regions. They share a common bond in their commitment to innovation and progress, and could jointly serve as pillars of an advanced regional platform in several domains.
Trilateral cooperation among them could enable new initiatives in maritime security, digital trade agreements, energy security, climate change, food and water security, as well as ways of navigating great power competition.
Singapore and the UAE have already committed vast resources for climate change assets and technologies through their sovereign wealth funds, while Israel has been attracting record amounts of venture capital, gearing its high-tech sector more and more towards climate-related solutions.
A trilateral partnership to identify, test and scale climate-tech solutions, carbon markets concept, as well as blue economy projects – since they are all coastal nations – can create substantial value to all countries involved, the rest of their regions of influence and the world too.
On climate tech investment, usage of AI for optimisation, measurement, reporting, verification, and management are areas in which the three countries have comparative strengths.
On carbon markets, Singapore and the UAE have set up exchanges and are attracting investors, while Israel could join a smart platform allowing fungibility between exchanges, as well as bringing innovation to the blue carbon markets. This could create a major player in the field with large respective regional reach, good governance and trust, and recognition.
On food security, the three countries play different roles across the value chain. Their collaboration could introduce direly needed institutional scale.
For example, trilateral cooperation among the UAE, Singapore and Israel presents an opportunity to address the global challenge of food security through large-scale sustainable deep-sea aquaculture, without requiring expensive real estate, which has been pioneered in Israel.
Food security initiatives
Other prospective projects include efficient urban farming (energy, water, waste management), efficient food systems (traceability, data analytics linking consumer demand to farming, processing tech towards zero-waste), and sustainable food systems (alternative food sources, alternative ingredients for foods and feeds, alternative food tech), all in advanced stages of development in Singapore. These could easily add value to several food security initiatives that Israel and the UAE are currently working on.
While the above opportunities are no doubt promising, the peril lies in identifying issues that are equally relevant to all three countries to prevent disengaging any partner and achieving consensus on a common roadmap for the future.
Since the promises are more than the perils, these three forward-looking countries must experiment expanding their bilateral relations to the trilateral format. Ahead of COP28 in the UAE, practical trilateral cooperation on green tech and food security could provide a basis for an exciting cross-regional partnership.
Such trilateral-minilateral arrangements also reflect the augmentation of the world order, changing the physics of polarity to a digital approach based on connectivity.
The new world order could be less polarised and less influenced by superpower rivalry. Instead, it could revolve around clusters of small and middle powers that find synergies through shared challenges and opportunities.
Gedaliah Afterman is the head of the Asia Policy Program at the Abba Eban Institute for Diplomacy & Foreign Relations at Reichman University; N. Janardhan is Director of Research and Analysis at the Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy, Abu Dhabi; Jean-Loup Samaan is Senior Research Fellow, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore; and Mohammed Baharoon is the Director-General of B’huth (Dubai Public Policy Research Centre).
The authors believe that to develop effective and practical trilateral partnerships it is crucial for policy makers, academics and the private sector to work together closely. In this regard, the authors particularly appreciate the time and insights shared by Angela Homsi, Founder of Ignite Power (UAE), Yariv Bar-Yam, Chief Business Officer at Mariculture Systems (Israel) and Prof. William Chen of Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) some of which appear in the above article.