India and the Iranian-Saudi Divide

Why New Delhi Hedges Its Bets

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Ufa, Russia, July 2015.  BRICS / SCO Photohost / RIA Novosti / REUTERS

For decades, India’s commitment to nonalignment has granted it close relationships with states that are at odds with one another. During the Cold War, India refused to ally with either the Western capitalist countries or the Soviet-led Communist bloc, making use of its postcolonial legacy to nonviolently push for cooperation among the countries of the so-called Third World. Today, in the Middle East, India has successfully maintained ties with Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia—three countries that are locked in competition.  

Given that the rivalry among those three states could eventually lead to war—endangering India’s interests in the Middle East, where it sources most of its energy and where millions of Indian emigrants live—New Delhi must carefully navigate the growing divide in the Persian Gulf. If it does so successfully, it can avoid getting entangled in regional tensions and consolidate its position as a key player

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