The Japanese Government is planning to send warships and patrol planes to protect Japanese ships in the Middle East, as the situation in the region got worsen due to the conflict between Iran and the US. Japan’s top government spokesman said on Friday, December 27, 2019, the warships will be employed mainly to protect nearly 90% of its crude oil imports from the region.
Approval of Sending Warships
According to Reuters, “Under the plan approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet, a helicopter-equipped destroyer and two P-3C patrol planes will be dispatched for information-gathering aimed at ensuring safe passage for Japanese vessels through the region.” The warships would be using its weapons to protect Japanese ships in danger in case of emergencies.
The Japanese Government would take any steps, if required, for the protection of its transport vessels. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference, “Peace and stability in the Middle East are extremely important for the peace and prosperity of the international community including Japan. Also, it is very important to make sure Japan-related ships can sail safely in the Middle East, the world’s major source of energy.”
The Abe Government’s decision to support warships for the protection of vessels was welcomed by oil importers and refiners. The Petroleum Association of Japan’s President Takashi Tsukioka said in a statement, “The Middle East situation remains unpredictable … We believe the decision, made against this backdrop, will benefit the safe passage of ships in the region.” The warships operation will cover several places ranging from high seas in the Gulf of Oman, the northern Arabian Sea to the Gulf of Aden. However, the operation will not cover areas around the Strait of Hormuz.
Main Issue in the Middle East
The animosity between Iran and the US has escalated since last year. The existing issues between Iran and the US were a part of the disagreement of the nuclear deal. President Donald Trump pulled the US out of a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran and re-imposed sanctions on Iran that had been crippling its economy. Between May and June 2019, several attacks took place targeting international merchant vessels including the Japanese-owned tanker, Kokuka Courageous in the region. Washington has blamed Tehran for these attacks but the latter denied the accusations.
Japan, a close ally of the US, now plans to partner with Iran in the operations. According to Reuters, “Japan has opted to launch its own operation rather than join a U.S.-led mission to protect shipping in the region.” Apparently, Japan is in favor of Iran’s support of denying the US alliance for the mission. Abe last visited Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the last week of December 2019 and held talks about Tokyo’s plan to send naval forces to the Gulf.
A defense ministry official said, “The Japanese government aims to start the operation of the patrol planes next month, while the destroyer will likely begin activities in the region in February.” The operation is set to function for one year, which will expire on December 26, 2020. The Japanese Government now needs cabinet approval to extend the armed force’s activities in the Middle East. A European operation will also join next month to ensure safe shipping in the Gulf.
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