The Indian Air Force completed its second joint exercise with its counterparts from Oman whose northern tip is located at the Straits of Hormuz, entrance to the crucial Gulf and 35 km opposite Iran. The previous exercise was held in 2009, the first such full fledged endeavour with a Gulf state.
The exercise, said sources, was part of India’s efforts to build strategic ties with Oman whose ports have been utilised by Indian Navy frigates on anti-piracy duty off the Gulf of Aden. In fact Oman is the first Arab State to have formalised defence ties with India and Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawai bin Abdulla was the first high-level leader from an Arab country to visit India after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Oman has largely practiced war games with western and Gulf States besides the U.S. with which it has a defence agreement. It stepped up security engagements with India after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Muscat in 2008, along with the then National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and the then Defence Secretary Vijay Singh held detailed talks on the regional security situation.
It helped that of the largely US, UK and French origin military hardware, Oman also has Jaguar fighters which were deployed for the “Exercise Eastern bridge - 2011’’ at the Jamnagar Air Force base in Gujarat.
Closer security ties, said sources, would smoothen the path for greater economic engagement. Oman has a free trade agreement with the US and, according to Oman’s Ambassador Sheikh Humaid Bin Ali Bin Sultan Al-mani, India could use its industrial zones and the port of Salana which can be used to send goods to the U.S.
Different from other Gulf states in its political reflexes, Oman has spent heavily in modernising its forces in view of the 20-year-long insurgency in Dhofar region, its crucial location and the fact that the dominant religious sect is Ibadhism which is said to be different from other Shia and Sunni strains practices in its neighbourhood.
India is currently examining the technical viability of an under-sea pipeline from Oman and planning to invest more in oil and gas exploration. Indian firms are part of a consortium that has been awarded Block 18 to prospect for hydrocarbons.