Since the attack on a Japanese-owned oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz in June, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has been under pressure to send a military force to protect its tankers in the volatile waterway. Having previously been averse to sending warships to join a US-led maritime force to guard oil tankers, Tokyo has announced today that it is considering plans to dispatch an independent military unit.
Yoshihide Suga, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, said that the government is planning to deploy forces in the region. "The peace and stability of the Middle East is extremely important for the peace and stability of international society, including our country," said Suga. He confirmed that Japan would not join a US military coalition in the area but an option to send an independent military force was being considered.
If a Japanese expedition is to be sent is it likely to involve ships and aircraft from the Maritime Self-Defence Force. The Financial Times reported Suga saying that the operations would be limited to international waters in the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea and the Bab El-Mandab strait.
Japan, which enjoys close ties with Iran and is reluctant to take sides in a dispute with the US, has tread cautiously when it comes to getting involved in military affairs. Japanese voters, explained the FT tend to be highly suspicious of overseas military deployments. Following its defeat in the Second World War it adopted a pacifist constitution which tightly proscribes how Japan can deploy its military.
Suga reiterated that "at present, there is no direct need for the protection of Japanese vessels by Self-Defence Force assets" but he went on to stress that "in any event, we'll consider what further measures are necessary for the security of ships linked to our country."