The Saturday editions of all national dailies ran extensive reports saying that Prime Minister Abe asked relevant cabinet ministers on Friday to look into dispatching an SDF unit to the Middle East in order to “collect intelligence on the local situation.” The papers interpreted Abe’s instructions as a green light to deploy troops and military assets for maritime security operations. The deployment will reportedly be independent of the U.S.-orchestrated multinational initiative to defend the Strait of Hormuz and other critical waterways in the region. The dailies noted that the decision reflects Japan’s desire to avoid displeasing either the U.S. or Iran, explaining that the warship and/or patrol planes to be deployed will operate in the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, and the passage between Yemen and Somalia, but not in the Strait of Hormuz. According to Yomiuri, the GOJ reportedly concluded that the Trump administration would not take issue with Japan’s decision not to participate in the U.S. coalition as long as it commits military hardware to the region.
In announcing the prime minister’s instructions, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga reportedly underscored that while the current situation in the region does not require the immediate protection of Japanese tankers and cargo ships, the GOJ concluded that enhanced intelligence gathering operations are still necessary in view of recent developments, such as the Iranian tanker explosion in the Red Sea on Oct. 11. Asked by journalists why Japan is not joining the U.S.-led coalition, Suga reportedly said the GOJ decided to act independently after studying various options in a comprehensive manner. However, he also explained that the Japanese operation will be carried out in coordination with the U.S.-orchestrated coalition.
The GOJ is reportedly considering diverting to the Middle East mission a warship or aircraft currently engaged in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. Although Suga said no decision has yet been made as to when the SDF unit will be dispatched, Yomiuri and Mainichi claimed that an MSDF vessel different from the one engaged in the anti-piracy mission may be deployed as early as the year end or January.
Asahi said Deputy Foreign Minister Mori conveyed Japan’s plan to the Iranian government when he met with Foreign Minister Zarif in Tehran on Oct. 16. According to Nikkei, SDF warships will not be able to use force when protecting Japanese cargo vessels or tankers in the region since the deployment will be based on a provision of the Defense Ministry Establishment Act authorizing the ministry to undertake “research and study.”