*Representational image credit: wikipedia

For the first time, India and two gulf countries- the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia-are engaged in defence deals, it is learnt.

This became evident from Indian  Army Chief Gen MM Naravane leaving India on his six-day tour of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia today.

Defence experts think his visit reflects India's growing strategic ties with the two influential Gulf nations. Incidentally, the visit comes in the midst of fast-paced developments in the Gulf region including normalisation of Israel's relations with several Arab countries as well as situation arising out of the assassination of Iran's top nuclear weapons scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Moreover, it is for the first time that an Indian Army chief is visiting the two Gulf nations. As per his official schedule announced by the Indian Army, the Army Chief's first destination will be the UAE where he will meet senior military officials and discuss avenues for enhancing bilateral defence cooperation.

"General MM Naravane, the Chief of Army Staff has proceeded on a visit to the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from December 9 to 14," the Army said in a statement.

According to the official schedule, the Army Chief will visit Saudi Arabia from December 13 to 14."He will take forward the excellent defence cooperation between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and India through multiple meetings with senior functionaries of the security establishment and exchange views on various defence-related issues," the Army said in a statement.

It said Gen Maravane will visit the headquarters of Royal Saudi land force, the Joint force command headquarters and King Abdul Aziz Military Academy.

The Army chief is also scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia's National Defence University and address the students and faculty at the institution.

In the last few years, India's ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE have witnessed a major upswing. More, Saudi Arabia is learnt to be keen to collaborate with India on joint production of defence equipment.

Notably, Saudi Arabia is India's fourth-largest trade partner after China, the US and Japan, and a major source of energy. India imports around 18 per cent of its crude oil requirement from the country.

Saudi Arabia is also a major source of LPG for India. Notably, the Army chief had travelled to Nepal last month on a three-day visit that had significant diplomatic overtone.

In October, Gen Naravane travelled to Myanmar along with Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on a very crucial visit during which India decided to supply an attack submarine to the Myanmar Navy besides agreeing to further deepen military and defence ties.  

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