Why Japan sent its military contingent to the Middle East?

TOKYO, (BM) – Japanese authorities deployed the Takanami missile destroyer to patrol the Gulf of Oman. This was reported by the office of Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe. Earlier, as part of this operation, two aircraft flew from the base in Okinawa.

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The Japanese side noted that it will not patrol in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, so as not to spoil friendly relations with Iran. Experts call such steps of Tokyo independent, since the country in this case does not operate within the framework of an international coalition led by the United States.

Japan sent its missile destroyer Takanami to patrol the Gulf of Oman. This was reported by the office of Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe.

“Thousands of Japanese ships ply in these waters every year, including ships transporting 90% of the oil we import. This is a vital route for Japan,” Reuters quoted Abe as saying during his meeting with the crew of the destroyer at the Yokosuka Naval Base near Tokyo.

According to the Prime Minister, the operation aims to collect the necessary information to ensure the safety of Japanese ships. At the same time, Abe pointed out the need to ease tensions and stabilize the situation in the region.

It is also noted that as part of this operation, two aircraft have already flown from the base in Okinawa.

It was previously reported that patrols involving the destroyer along with Lockheed P-3 Orion (P3C) aircraft will begin in the second half of February. The operation will bring together more than 250 fighters of the Self-Defense Forces, who can only use weapons in case of an unforeseen situation to protect Japanese ships. $ 43 million was allocated from the state budget for these measures.

The patrol zone will not include the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. According to media reports, Japan made such a decision so as not to worsen friendly relations with Iran.

After it became known about the plans of the Japanese side to increase its military presence in the region, Tehran pointed out to Tokyo that the deployment of foreign troops would not contribute to peace and security in the Persian Gulf.

Japan, for its part, said that sending its ship and aircraft would not be part of the operation of the international coalition that Washington creates to control shipping in this zone.

Recall: Great Britain, Australia, Albania, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates agreed to take part in the American operation in the Gulf region.

“Departing from pacifist self-restraint”

The situation in the Middle East worsened after Washington launched an air strike near Baghdad Airport on the night of January 3. The attack killed the general of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Kassem Suleimani, as well as the deputy head of the Iraqi Shiite militia Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and about ten escort people.

However, relations between Iran and the United States seriously deteriorated as early as 2019 – after the drone attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. As a result, oil production in the kingdom was almost halved. It was possible to return to the previous indicators only after two weeks. Washington blamed Tehran for the attacks, even though the Hussite Yemeni rebels claimed responsibility for them.

According to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Iran “launched an unprecedented attack on world energy supplies.” The head of the Ministry of Defense of the Islamic Republic Amir Khatami, in turn, rejected all the charges.

As Dmitry Streltsov, head of the Department of Oriental Studies at MGIMO, noted in an interview with RT, Tokyo’s measures to conduct an operation in the Gulf of Oman outside the framework of the international coalition led by the United States can be called “independent.”

“Japan has taken a long-term course towards expanding the zone of national interests at those points that are sensitive to the Japanese side. Hence this kind of increase in the military contingent,” said the expert.

Streltsov also stressed that Japan “is not going to attack anyone or violate international law.”

“The point is that Tokyo is more actively moving away from pacifist self-restraints that were adopted after the Second World War, and interprets the right to self-defense,” the analyst said.

At the same time, Vitaly Shvydko, head of the Japanese research group at IMEMO RAS, said in a conversation with RT that Washington insisted that Japan join the international coalition that patrols the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf.

“However, Tokyo is politically uncomfortable joining this group. Instead, Japan sent its destroyer to gather information and patrol. Thus, the Japanese side wants to show that it is contributing to the stabilization of the situation in the Middle East,” said the expert.

According to Shvydko, sending a military contingent to the Middle East region is the initiative of the Japanese government, and not the United States.

“Tokyo is doing this, among other things, to demonstrate its flag, as well as to indicate its presence in the international arena,” the analyst said.

“There is room for maneuver”

In mid-January, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono said the country would make diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions between the US and Iran.

“We will make consistent diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions and stabilize the situation in the region,” RIA Novosti quoted Kono as saying at a press conference with US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper following talks at the Pentagon.

However, the Japanese minister stressed that Tokyo does not intend to participate in US or European military operations in the Middle East. According to him, the Japanese military has “constitutional restrictions” that do not allow them to take part in international military operations abroad.

However, Kono said that Japan plans to exchange information with its security allies.

In addition, the representative of the Japanese Ministry of Defense recalled that Tokyo had previously authorized the sending of military personnel to the region to protect maritime trade routes in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, through which crude oil tankers pass. As Kono noted, Japan imports from the Middle Eastern states about 19% of crude oil, of which almost 80% passes through the Strait of Hormuz.

Japan is beneficial to maintain friendly relations with Iran, said Dmitry Streltsov. According to him, this is primarily due to the new Japanese energy security strategy.

“The country is betting on the diversification of energy supply sources. Tokyo depends on imports of oil and gas from the Middle East, so it is interested in having stable relations with oil producing countries, including Iran,” the expert said, also pointing out that the Japanese side receives most of the oil from the Middle East, particular from the Persian Gulf zone.

At the same time, according to Streltsov, “Japan has always found a balance between the allies.”

“In addition, Washington is now insisting that the US allies themselves must take care of their security. And this is pushing Tokyo to strengthen cooperation with its other partners, as well as find new ones. Now Japan has its hands untied to a certain extent and there is a sufficiently large space for maneuver, ” the analyst said.

Vitaly Shvydko holds a similar position.

“Japan believes that long-term cooperation with both the United States and Iran, including economic, will allow it to become an intermediary between these countries,” the expert concluded.

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Editorial team
Source: RT /
Irina Taran, Alena Medvedeva

The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.