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2019 December 25 - 2020 January 14 [POLITICS]

Japan silent on US killing of Iranian general

January 5, 2020

The international community has expressed concerns over and strong criticism of the killing of the top Iranian Revolutionary Guard general by the U.S. Trump administration. Immediately after the U.S. drone strike in Bagdad, the U.K., Germany, and France published statements, respectively, to urge both the U.S. and Iran to de-escalate the situation. In sharp contrast, Japan's prime minister has kept silent.

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo was on a golf course near Tokyo on January 4. Asked by the press about the situation in the Middle East, PM Abe only said, "I'm thinking of visiting the Middle East this month if circumstances allow." He said nothing about the U.S. drone strike that killed the leader of the Iranian elite force. The Japanese government is now preparing his visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia in mid-January. However, his stance of passivity is not expected to produce meaningful results during the visit to these countries.

The Japanese Cabinet last year decided to dispatch the Self Defense Forces to the Middle East. Based on Article 4 of the Defense Ministry Establishment Act, the SDF will start an intelligence-gathering mission as part of a "research survey" by using Maritime SDF P-3C patrol aircraft as early as the middle of this month. An MSDF escort vessel, "Takanami", will be sent to the region in February.

The government explains that Japan will not join in "a specific framework" in the Middle East but will address the issue in its own way. At the same time, the government says that it will place Japanese liaison officers at the U.S. Central Command in Bahrain. This means that Japan will play a part in a U.S.-led coalition of the willing.

Japan will send the MSDF ship to the Gulf of Oman near the Iranian border and will order the Japanese contingent to engage in a maritime policing operation with the possible use of weapons based on Article 82 of the SDF Act allowing the use of force in the event of "an unexpected situation".

The government has so far issued three orders initiating maritime patrols. Two of them were operations in Japanese waters, and the other one was an anti-piracy mission. The next order will initiate operations outside Japan when the U.S. and Iran may become engaged in a state of war. If Japanese patrols take enforcement steps by using armed force against or obstructing passage of the Iranian forces or the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, it will constitute the initiation of combat with "a state or an actor equivalent to a state" which is prohibited by the Japanese Constitution as "the use of force overseas".

Even a non-binding warning or approach by Japanese warships may be considered a hostile action from the Iranian viewpoint, which in turn will lead to the termination of the friendly ties with Iran Japan has maintained and will result in a great loss to Japan's national interest.

Japan should immediately cancel the plan to dispatch the SDF to the Middle East as a way to curry favor with the U.S. Trump administration, and should also press the U.S. to return to the Iran nuclear deal. What is needed most is for the Japanese government to engage in all-out diplomatic efforts to ease tensions in the region.
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