Japan announced Thursday it is sending warships to patrol strategic Middle East waterways, joining assets from the U.S., Australia and the UK already working to ensure the safety of commercial shipping traffic in the area.
The deployment came barely 24-hours after China, Russia and Iran confirmed they will hold joint naval drills in the Gulf of Oman, as Breitbart News reported.
The Japanese Cabinet’s decision to insert military assets into the region reflects tensions that have escalated between Iran and the U.S. since President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran’s Obama-negotiated 2015 nuclear deal.
The government changed the interpretation of the Constitution five years ago to allow limited use of military force when the Japan’s survival is threatened.
”Taking into consideration the escalating tension in the Middle East, it is necessary to strengthen our information gathering effort,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide suga told a news conference. Citing Japan’s heavy dependence on oil imports from the region, Suga added that “it is extremely important to secure the safe navigation of Japan-affiliated ships.”
Under the plan, Japan will send about 260 Maritime Self-Defense Force personnel with a destroyer and a pair of P-3C reconnaissance aircraft, mainly for intelligence-gathering.
Defense Minister Taro Kono issued an order for the sailors to start preparing for the operation, which is planned for one year beginning in January.
Japan plans to deploy warships initially for information gathering purposes to the Gulf of Oman, the Northern Arabian Sea and nearby waters, but did not include the Strait of Hormuz at the center of the U.S.-Iran tension, as Breitbart News previously reported.
Sending warships to areas of military tension is a highly sensitive issue in Japan, where its pacifist postwar constitution strictly limits use of force to the country’s self-defense only. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, however, has gradually expanded Japan’s military role.
In June, a Japanese-operated tanker was attacked in the Gulf of Oman, which Washington said Iran was responsible and urged Japan to join the U.S.-led military initiative.
AP contributed to this report