Tokyo: Japan’s Cabinet on Friday endorsed a plan to send a Self-Defence Force (SDF) ship and aircraft to the Middle East in one of its biggest diplomatic efforts to ease tensions and stabilise the situation there.
The mission will be considered a study and research activity, which the defence minister is allowed to authorise, NHK World reported.
In addition, the Japanese government is also considering sending a destroyer to the region as well as dispatching two P3C aircraft that have been engaged in anti-piracy missions off Somalia’s coast.
The ship and the planes are likely to be deployed in the Gulf of Oman, the northern part of the Arabian Sea, as well as in waters of countries in the Gulf of Aden for one year. Nearly 90 per cent of Tokyo’s crude oil imports pass through the Gulf region.
There are no plans to send the SDF to the Strait of Hormuz or the Persian Gulf at present, according to media reports.
The development has come after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe briefed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the “initiative” during a meeting in Tokyo.
If an emergency situation arises, a special order will be issued by the defence minister to allow the forces to use weapons to protect ships under attack, according to the plan.
Japan, an American ally maintaining friendly ties with Iran, is looking to launch its own operation rather than joining a US-led mission to protect shipping in the region.
Defence Minister Taro Kono directed his senior officials to prepare for possible new duties for their units. The SDF will then start necessary preparations, such as loading equipment and training the crew. About 260 personnel will be involved in the mission.
The patrol aircraft is expected to start operating in the Middle East in January. The destroyer will leave Japan in early February before starting its mission in mid-February.