The Saturday morning editions of all national dailies gave prominent coverage to the formal GOJ decision to deploy Self-Defense Forces assets to the Middle East for maritime security operations. Prime Minister Abe justified the plan by saying on a TV show on Friday evening: “Peace and stability in the Middle East are of critical importance to Japan. We will make our own contributions to ensuring freedom of navigation and regional stability.” According to the papers, 60 SDF members will be diverted from anti-piracy operations off Somalia to intelligence collection via patrol planes flying over the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea beginning in mid-January, and a destroyer with a complement of 200 will sail for the region in early February.
Asahi, asserting there is no pressing need to commit military assets to the region, said the Abe administration decided to mobilize the SDF in response to President Trump’s calls for Japan and other nations to deploy their own militaries to the region. The daily also noted that Tokyo plans to share relevant information with the members of the U.S.-orchestrated Operation Sentinel based on the assessment that “intelligence from other nations is indispensable given that a single Japanese destroyer in the vast expanse of ocean can do practically nothing,” according to an unnamed senior MSDF official. The paper also quoted a high-ranking MOD official as saying that Japan is a “de facto member” of the U.S.-led coalition because of the intelligence-sharing arrangement.
Yomiuri wrote that Iran apparently has not expressed opposition to Japan’s deployment plan because Tokyo decided not to take part in Operation Sentinel and will not operate military assets in the Persian Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz.
In a related development, Kyodo reported that on Saturday Defense Minister Kono inspected an SDF installation in Djibouti where troops engaged in multinational anti-piracy operations are stationed. The minister visited the base to officially inform its personnel that they are now tasked with conducting patrol operations over the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.