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India, UAE Defense Ties Reach ‘New Heights’ As Abu Dhabi Helps IAF With Rafale Delivery

India, UAE defense ties reached a new high on Wednesday when the UAE air Force helped India with the delivery of a new batch of Rafale fighter jets.

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The UAE Air Force’s Airbus multi-role transport tanker twice refueled the three Indian fighter jets on their non-stop eight-hour flight from Bordeaux-Merignac base in France to Ambala Air Force Station in India.

In a first-of-its-kind effort, the UAE Air force’s gesture highlights the cementing of the defense ties between the two countries. One more batch of Rafale fighter jets coming in April would be helped by the UAE Air Force in a similar way.

The year 2020 had witnessed an upswing in the bilateral ties between New Delhi and Abu Dhabi with their top leaders holding regular meetings. Among notable developments were the high-level visits of India’s External Affair Minister in November and Chief of Army Staff Gen. MM Naravane in December.

Earlier this month, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, during a meeting of the consultative committee of the ministry, had underlined India’s deepening relationship with Gulf countries.

Jaishankar had met Crown Prince and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Vice President Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, during his visit to the UAE.

He had discussed the cooperation of the two countries in a range of sectors including trade, investment, infrastructure, energy, food security, and defense.

On the other hand, Naravane, during his visit, had met with civilian and military leaders to discuss measures to enhance military ties.

Over the years, moving beyond the traditional trade ties, India has steadily built stronger defense ties with the Gulf nations through joint exercises, military training, and intelligence-sharing.

As per the reports, discussions are also underway to export the BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles to countries such as the UAE. Like other Gulf countries, the UAE is also keen on joint defense production ventures with India.

For instance, a report suggests that the UAE firm Caracal is among the four to five foreign contenders for the proposed “Make in India” project to manufacture 4.6 lakh close-quarter battle carbines for the Indian armed forces.

A New Trilateral Platform on Horizon?

The UAE helping India with the delivery of the Rafale jets signals a new strategic partnership between the two countries.

Kabir Taneja writes for Observer Research Foundation, “the cocktail of marketing and geopolitical tactic employed hereby France is skillful — getting Abu Dhabi, a strategic partner of France as well, to refuel India’s Rafale jets using UAE’s Airbus KC-30A MRTT tankers is an example….”

He emphasizes that leading the construct of an India–France–UAE trilateral could be beneficial for New Delhi on multiple fronts.

It is pertinent to take note of both France and the UAE’s approach to Kashmir and their ties with Pakistan. Taking note of India’s concerns, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested that the government would no longer service or upgrade French weapon platforms currently operating with Pakistan (including Mirage III/V fighter jets and submarines).

In addition, India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Diplomatic Advisor to the French President Emmanuel Bonne had reportedly discussed the possibility of a trilateral exercise involving India, France and the UAE during Bonne’s India visit on January 6.

Strengthening of Economic Ties

In the backdrop of India welcoming “full normalization” of ties between the UAE and Israel, the International Federation of the Indo-Israel Chambers of Commerce (IFIICC) was launched in December 2020 in Dubai.

IFIICC is planning to boost India’s strong historical ties with the UAE and Israel as it expects knowledge sharing, strategic partnerships, and cultural bonds to boost business relationships among the three countries.

“The UAE’s business-friendly regulatory framework, the enterprising Indian diaspora, and Israel’s innovative start-up culture can jump-start a model of business creation that can benefit the world,” said Merzi Sodawaterwala, chairman of IFIICC.

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