TOKYO Japan's Cabinet on Friday approved the dispatch of a Self-Defense Forces ship to waters close to a Middle Eastern flash point on anby By Isabel Reynolds Dec 27th · 1 min read
TOKYO Japan's Cabinet on Friday approved the dispatch of a Self-Defense Forces ship to waters close to a Middle Eastern flash point on an intelligence-gathering mission, which would be separate from U.S.-led operations in the area.
The naval vessel will carry about 200 personnel and one or two helicopters, according to documents distributed to reporters by the government, which didn't say where the ship will be based. The intelligence-gathering unit will also include two planes currently deployed on an anti-piracy mission based out of Djibouti.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he wants to contribute to stability in the region on which Japan relies for almost 90% of its oil imports, while maintaining its long-standing friendly relations with Iran. The ship and two planes will therefore not join the U.S.-led coalition in the region, despite a request to do so from President Donald Trump's administration.
Abe explained the policy to Hassan Rouhani last week during the first visit to Japan by an Iranian president in 19 years. Japan, with a pacifist constitution that limits its military activities and forces it to rely on its sole military ally, the U.S., also vowed to step up diplomatic efforts to resolve regional tensions.
The deployment will be valid for a year from the day of the Cabinet approval and will cover waters from the Gulf of Oman to the north part of the Arabian Sea and Bab-el-Mandeb, according to the documents.
The Japanese public is divided over the dispatch, with a survey by the Asahi newspaper conducted Dec. 21-22 finding 37% of respondents in favor of the mission and 44% against. A poll conducted by the Nikkei newspaper this month found 49% of respondents in favor and 38% against.
The U.S.-led International Maritime Security Construct, formerly known as Operation Sentinel, was established in response to a series of attacks on vessels and onshore facilities that some coalition members blamed on Iran. Among them was an attack on a Japanese-operated ship near the Strait of Hormuz while Abe was visiting Tehran in June.
Other members of the IMSC include the U.K., Australia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
In November, South Korea stepped up its naval presence in waters off Yemen. The move came after Yemeni Houthi rebels released three ships they seized earlier that month, which included two vessels from South Korea and one from Saudi Arabia.
The Iran-backed Houthis have been fighting a Saudi-led military coalition since 2015, a war that has regularly sent tensions in the Gulf soaring.
(Emi Nobuhiro contributed to this story.)
Visit Bloomberg News at www.bloomberg.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.