Members of Japan’s opposition party are beginning to publicly criticize Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his choice to send humanitarian aid to nations fighting the Islamic State, a decision blamed for triggering a hostage crisis that took the lives of two Japanese citizens.
The execution of hostages Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto by ISIS has been described as a galvanizing shock to Japan, comparable to 9/11 for the United States or the Charlie Hebdo massacre for France. However, even during the initial outpouring of grief and anger over Goto’s beheading last weekend, there were hints that Japan might not rally unanimously behind Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Opposition parties have launched a strong critique of the Prime Minister’s Middle East policy, even as Abe defiantly announced he would increase the humanitarian aid that ISIS wanted him to cancel, or hand over to them as ransom.
Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reports:
On Feb. 1, Yorihisa Matsuno, the secretary-general of the opposition Japan Innovation Party, revealed his party’s plan to raise questions in the Diet on Abe’s original pledge, given in a speech in Cairo on Jan. 17, and its relationship to the deaths of the two hostages. […]
Matsuno said, “Even if Japan said the assistance constituted humanitarian support, the (Islamic State) group may not have thought so. The group may have used the assistance as an excuse (to use the hostages to gain publicity and demand $200 million in ransom).”
Yukio Edano, the secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said the same day, “On the media, experts are casting doubts (on the appropriateness of the speech). So it is necessary to question (the government) in the Diet.”
Seiji Mataichi, the secretary-general of the Social Democratic Party, said his party will question whether it was appropriate for Abe to visit the Middle East while the hostages were being held by the Islamic State group.
“We have to calmly look into (the appropriateness of not only the speech but also) the visit itself,” he said.
Although Abe has expressed outrage over the hostage murders, and vowed on Monday to stop ISIS from “using cruelty to expand its control over territory,” he said that Japan’s involvement in the anti-ISIS coalition would remain limited to humanitarian assistance, explicitly ruling out Japanese participation in the air campaign against Islamic State targets.
In an interview with Asahi Shimbun, the chairman of Jordan’s foreign affairs committee, Bassam al-Manaseer, offered assurances that Jordan and Japan stood wholly united during negotiations to swap a captive terrorist for both Goto and a Jordanian pilot held by ISIS. “We can consider Jordan and Japan as one side of the negotiation and the Islamic State as the other side,” said al-Manaseer, who alluded to an unnamed third part who acted as Jordan and Japan’s intermediary. “There were no direct negotiations between Japan and the Islamic State.”
This could mollify some of Abe’s critics, but then al-Manaseer went on to emphasize that Jordan would not agree to a deal that freed Goto alone, in exchange for Jordan’s prisoner Sajida al-Rishawi. “We wanted to set the Japanese hostage free, but we couldn’t because we could not guarantee that the pilot would remain alive after we swapped al-Rishawi for the Japanese hostage,” he explained. “Sajida is a very important card in the hand of the Jordanian government, whereas the Jordanian pilot and the Japanese hostages are two cards in ISIS hand.”
Domestic opposition could take shots at Abe for not pushing harder to trade Rishawi for Goto, although that was clearly a non-starter for the Jordanians. They have their own problems with domestic opposition to the anti-ISIS effort; the safe return of captured pilot Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh has been considered essential to Jordanian morale.
At press time, reports are beginning to surface that Kaseasbeh has been executed by the Islamic State, in the most hideous fashion they have yet devised: burned alive on video.