Act West Asia

Expanding its defence outreach, India aims to safeguard its strategic interests in the region

Mohammad Asif Khan

India’s defence ties with the Middle East have seen significant growth in the past few years. This includes stronger relationships with many countries, especially those in the Gulf region. Key partnerships have been formed with countries like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Oman, which have become very important for India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu during his first visit to Israel
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu during his first visit to Israel

Defence activities between these nations have increased, with more joint military exercises and collaborations on issues like counterterrorism and cybersecurity. According to a research fellow with the strategic studies programme at Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Kabir Taneja, “The growth in India’s defence ties extends beyond naval exercises. We have observed high-level visits by the army and air force chiefs to the Middle East. This reflects a broader approach in India’s military engagements with the region, aimed at safeguarding future interests.” Here is a look at India’s defence cooperation with major West Asian nations.


Saudi Arabia

India and Saudi Arabia are rapidly intensifying their collaboration in security and defence. This burgeoning alliance witnessed significant progress in 2022, marked by a series of strategic visits, joint exercises and collaborative initiatives.

In February 2022, Lieutenant General Fahd bin Abdullah Mohammed Al-Mutair, commander of the Royal Saudi Land Forces, made the first official visit to India by a Saudi Land Forces chief. This historic visit facilitated discussions on ongoing defence cooperation and initiatives, including interactions at India's esteemed National Defence College.

The fifth meeting of the India-Saudi Joint Committee on Defence Cooperation, held in July 2022 in New Delhi led by Ahmed A. Aseeri, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister of Defense for Strategic Affairs, the delegation engaged with representatives of Indian defence companies.

Naval cooperation flourished in 2022 with seven Indian Navy and Coast Guard vessels undertaking goodwill visits to Saudi ports. Milestones were achieved with the arrival of India’s First Training Squadron and the sail training ship Tarangini in Jeddah, symbolising the burgeoning naval ties.

In March 2022, Indian companies exhibited their capabilities at the World Defense Show in Riyadh, while a Saudi delegation reciprocated by attending the Defence Expo 2022 in India.

The Al Mohed Al Hindi joint naval exercise, conducted in both 2021 and 2023, stands as a testament to the success of this growing partnership. Moreover, the outcomes of the 5th Joint Committee on Defence Cooperation meeting held in June 2022 were met with great enthusiasm, particularly the discussions on jointly developing and producing defence equipment.

In 2021 an agreement was signed between Saudi Arabia’s Prince Dr Turki bin Saud bin Mohammed Al Saud Center for Defence Technology and Capability (PDTC) and India’s Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). This significant partnership focuses on the transfer and deployment of advanced technological solutions for security, aerospace and defence, with potential applications in the civilian sector as well.

Concerted efforts are underway to introduce Indian defence industries to Saudi Arabia under the Make in India initiative and Saudi Vision 2030, fostering industrial collaboration and knowledge transfer.



India and Israel’s diplomatic relationship, despite India’s recognition of Israel in 1950, was only formalised in 1992. Over the years, especially recently, these ties have significantly strengthened. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2017 visit to Israel marked a milestone, followed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to India the following year.

The development of India-Israel relations has been based on defence purchases. In 2021, Israel ranked among the top three providers of arms to India as per the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Recent updates suggest ongoing discussions regarding the potential collaborative production of weapon systems between the two nations.

India has been one of the largest buyers of Israeli defence equipment, purchasing a wide range of products, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), radar systems, missile defence systems and ammunition. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), weapons deliveries to India from Israel increased by 175 per cent between 2015 and 2019. UAVs, missiles and radar systems have dominated India’s purchases from Israel, totalling USD 4.2 billion (2001–2021).

India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Israeli Directorate of Defence Research and Development (DDR&D) have signed a bilateral innovation agreement (BIA) to promote innovation and accelerated R&D in start-ups and MSMEs of both countries for the development of dual-use technologies. The development efforts of India and Israel will be jointly funded by DRDO and DDR&D. Both countries can access and apply the technologies developed under the BIA for homeland use.

India and Israel have adopted the India-Israel Vision of Defence Cooperation to strengthen their defence cooperation. They have also agreed to form a task force for a 10-year cooperation plan to identify new areas in defence cooperation. The Indian Ministry of Defence signed a contract with BEL for procuring Software Defined Radio Tactical (SDR-Tac), worth over INR 1,000 crore. India has also signed a USD 200 million contract with Rafael Advanced Defence System for the procurement of bomb guidance kits, anti-tank guided missiles and software-enabled radios.

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