NEW DELHI: Chief of Army Staff Gen MM Naravane on Tuesday left on a six-day tour of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, in a first-ever visit by a head of the Indian Army to the two strategically important Gulf countries.
The visit by the Army chief is seen as a reflection of India's growing strategic ties with the two countries and is expected to further open up new avenues for cooperation in the defence and security sphere.
Gen Naravane's 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.
The Army chief's first destination will be the United Arab Emirates 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.
"During the visit, he will be meeting his counterparts and senior military leadership of these countries.
The visit is historic in the sense that it will be the first time an Indian Army Chief is visiting the UAE and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," it said.
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.
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.
Gen Naravane's visit to the Gulf region comes days after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar's trips to Bahrain and the UAE.
In the last few years, India's ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE have witnessed a major upswing.
In a significant move, India and Saudi Arabia last year decided to establish a strategic partnership council to further ramp up their cooperation in strategically key areas.
It is learnt that Saudi Arabia is keen to collaborate with India on joint production of defence equipment.
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.
Last month, the Army Chief travelled to Nepal 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.