Pakistan to appoint head of spy agency within week

Special Pakistan to appoint head of spy agency within week
The army’s media wing on Oct. 6 announced Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmad Anjum as ISI’s new head, and posted the current chief as Corps Commander Peshawar. (File)
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Updated 18 October 2021

Pakistan to appoint head of spy agency within week

Pakistan to appoint head of spy agency within week
  • News comes amid reports of rift between govt and army chief over the appointment

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s interior minister said on Saturday that matters relating to the appointment of the new head of Inter-Services Intelligence, the country’s premier intelligence agency, would be resolved within a week.

The army is arguably the most influential institution in Pakistan, with the military having ruled the country for about half of its 74-year history since independence from Britain, and has enjoyed extensive power even under civilian administrations.

The head of the intelligence in turn, is one of the most important posts in Pakistan.

The army’s media wing on Oct. 6 announced Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmad Anjum as the agency’s new head, and posted the current chief, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, as Corps Commander Peshawar.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, though, has yet to issue an official notification about the posting, fueling reports of a rift between the government and army over the appointment.

Earlier this week, the prime minister and head of the army, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, held consultations over the role.  

“From this Friday, which passed yesterday, till the next, all issues will be resolved,” Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said at a ceremony in Islamabad.

“The ones who wish ill of our institutions and can’t stand Imran Khan’s democracy keep talking, but they will not succeed,” he added.

Created in 1948,  Inter-Services Intelligence gained importance and power during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and is now rated one of best-organized intelligence agencies in the developing world.

The agency is seen as the Pakistani equivalent of the US Central Intelligence Agency, or Israel’s Mossad. Its size is not publicly known but the agency is widely believed to employ tens of thousands of agents, with informers in many spheres of public life.

The threat to Pakistan from nuclear-armed neighbor India has been a main preoccupation of the ISI throughout its existence.

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Canada’s Hudson Bay a summer refuge for thousands of belugas

Canada’s Hudson Bay a summer refuge for thousands of belugas
Updated 45 min 24 sec ago

Canada’s Hudson Bay a summer refuge for thousands of belugas

Canada’s Hudson Bay a summer refuge for thousands of belugas
  • Decrease in ice due to climate change, in an area that is warming three to four times faster than the rest of the planet, is a cause for concern for researchers

CHURCHILL, Canada: Half a dozen beluga whales dive and reemerge around tourist paddle boards in Canada’s Hudson Bay, a handful of about 55,000 of the creatures that migrate from the Arctic to the bay’s more temperate waters each summer.
Far from the Seine river where a beluga strayed in early August north of Paris, the estuaries that flow into the bay in northern Canada offer a sanctuary for the small white whales to give birth in relative warm and shelter.
In the murky bay, the belugas, with small dark eyes and what look like wide smiles, seem to enjoy the presence of a cluster of tourists who traveled to the remote town of Churchill — home to some 800 people and only accessible by train or plane — to observe the cetaceans.
For more than seven months of the year, between November and June, the bay is frozen.

The thaw marks the return of the belugas to the haven, where they are protected from orcas and feed on the rich food found in the estuaries.
The gray color of the young whales stands out against the bright white adults as they glide through the water in packs, all the while communicating in their own array of sounds.

Nicknamed “canaries of the sea” due to the 50 or so different vocalizations — whistles, clicks, chirps and squeals — they emit, belugas are “social butterflies” and “sound is the glue of that society,” said Valeria Vergara, who has been studying them for years.
“Belugas are sound-centered species, and sound to them is really like vision to us,” the researcher with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation told AFP.
Listening at the speaker of a hydrophone, the 53-year-old scientist tries to distinguish the multitude of sounds from the depths — a cacophony to the untrained ear.
“They need to rely on sound to communicate and they also rely on sound to echolocate, to find their way... to find food,” said Vergara, who has identified “contact calls” used between members of a pod.
Newborn belugas, which measure around 1.8 meters (six feet) long and weigh some 80 kilos (175 pounds), remain dependent on their mother for two years.
As an adult, the mammal — which generally matures in the icy waters around Greenland and in the north of Canada, Norway and Russia — can grow to six meters long and live between 40 and 60 years.
The Hudson Bay beluga population is the largest in the world.
But the decrease in ice due to climate change, in an area that is warming three to four times faster than the rest of the planet, is a cause for concern for researchers.
 


Receding ice leaves Canada’s polar bears at rising risk

Receding ice leaves Canada’s polar bears at rising risk
Updated 45 min ago

Receding ice leaves Canada’s polar bears at rising risk

Receding ice leaves Canada’s polar bears at rising risk
  • The fate of the polar bear should alarm everyone, says Flavio Lehner, a climate scientist at Cornell University who was part of the expedition, because the Arctic is a good “barometer” of the planet’s health

CHURCHILL Canada: Sprawled on rocky ground far from sea ice, a lone Canadian polar bear sits under a dazzling sun, his white fur utterly useless as camouflage.
It’s mid-summer on the shores of Hudson Bay and life for the enormous male has been moving in slow motion, far from the prey that keeps him alive: seals. 
This is a critical time for the region’s polar bears.
Every year from late June when the bay ice disappears — shrinking until it dots the blue vastness like scattered confetti — they must move onto shore to begin a period of forced fasting.
But that period is lasting longer and longer as temperatures rise — putting them in danger’s way.
Once on solid ground, the bears “typically have very few options for food,” explains Geoff York, a biologist with Polar Bear International (PBI).
York, an American, spends several weeks each year in Churchill, a small town on the edge of the Arctic in the northern Canadian province of Manitoba. There he follows the fortunes of the endangered animals.
This is one of the best spots from which to study life on Hudson Bay, though transportation generally requires either an all-terrain vehicle adapted to the rugged tundra, or an inflatable boat for navigating the bay’s waters.
York invited an AFP team to join him on an expedition in early August.
Near the impressively large male bear lazing in the sun is a pile of fishbones — nowhere near enough to sustain this 11-foot (3.5-meter), 1,300-pound (600-kilo) beast.
“There could be a beluga whale carcass they might be able to find, (or a) naive seal near shore, but generally they’re just fasting,” York says.
“They lose nearly a kilogram of body weight every day that they’re on land.”
Climate warming is affecting the Arctic three times as fast as other parts of the world — even four times, according to some recent studies. So sea ice, the habitat of the polar bear, is gradually disappearing.
A report published two years ago in the journal Nature Climate Change suggested that this trend could lead to the near-extinction of these majestic animals: 1,200 of them were counted on the western shores of Hudson Bay in the 1980s. Today the best estimate is 800. 

A female polar bear stands along the shoreline of the Hudson Bay near Churchill on August 5, 2022. (Olivier Morin / AFP)

Cycle of life disrupted

Each summer, sea ice begins melting earlier and earlier, while the first hard freeze of winter comes later and later. Climate change thus threatens the polar bears’ very cycle of life.
They have fewer opportunities to build up their reserves of fat and calories before the period of summer scarcity.
The polar bear — technically known as the Ursus maritimus — is a meticulous carnivore that feeds principally on the white fat that envelops and insulates a seal’s body.
But these days this superpredator of the Arctic sometimes has to feed on seaweed — as a mother and her baby were seen doing not far from the port of Churchill, the self-declared “Polar Bear Capital.”
If female bears go more than 117 days without adequate food, they struggle to nurse their young, said Steve Amstrup, an American who is PBI’s lead scientist. Males, he adds, can go 180 days.
As a result, births have declined, and it has become much rarer for a female to give birth to three cubs, once a common occurrence.
It is a whole ecosystem in decline, and one that 54-year-old York — with his short hair and rectangular glasses — knows by heart after spending more than 20 years roaming the Arctic, first for the ecology organization WWF and now for PBI.
During a capture in Alaska, a bear sunk its fangs into his leg.
Another time, while entering what he thought was an abandoned den, he came nose-to-snout with a female. York, normally a quiet man, says he “yelled as loud as I ever have in my life.”
Today, these enormous beasts live a precarious existence.
“Here in Hudson Bay, in the western and southern parts, polar bears are spending up to a month longer on shore than their parents or grandparents did,” York says.
As their physical condition declines, he says, their tolerance for risk rises, and “that might bring them into interaction with people (which) can lead to conflict instead of co-existence.”

“Prison” for bears

Binoculars in hand, Ian Van Nest, a provincial conservation officer, keeps an eye out through the day on the rocks surrounding Churchill, where the bears like to hide.
In this town of 800 inhabitants, which is only accessible by air and train but not by any roads, the bears have begun frequenting the local dump, a source of easy — but potentially harmful — food for them.

Provincial Polar Bear Patrol Officer Ian Van Nest on patrol on the shoreline of the Hudson Bay outside Churchill on August 7, 2022. (Olivier Morin / AFP)

They could be seen ripping open trash bags, eating plastic or getting their snouts trapped in food tins amid piles of burning waste.
Since then, the town has taken precautions: The dump is now guarded by cameras, fences and patrols.
Across Churchill, people leave cars and houses unlocked in case someone needs to find urgent shelter after an unpleasant encounter with this large land-based carnivore.
Posted on walls around town are the emergency phone numbers to reach Van Nest or his colleagues.
When they get an urgent call, they hop in their pickup truck armed with a rifle and a spray can of repellent, wearing protective flak jackets.
Van Nest, who is bearded and in his 30s, takes the job seriously, given the rising number of polar bears in the area.
Sometimes they can be scared off with just “the horn on your vehicle,” he tells AFP.
But other times “we might have to get on foot and grab our shotguns and cracker shells,” which issue an explosive sound designed to frighten the animal, “and head onto the rocks and pursue that bear.”
Some areas are watched more closely than others — notably around schools as children are arriving in the morning “to ensure that the kids are going to be safe.”
There have been some close calls, like the time in 2013 when a woman was grievously injured by a bear in front of her house, before a neighbor — clad in pajamas and slippers — ran out wielding only his snow shovel to scare the animal away.
Sometimes the animals have to be sedated, then winched up by a helicopter to be transported to the north, or kept in a cage until winter, when they can again feed on the bay.
Churchill’s only “prison” is inhabited entirely by bears, a hangar whose 28 cells can fill up in the autumn as the creatures maraud in mass around town while waiting for the ice to re-form in November.

Barometer of planet's health

The fate of the polar bear should alarm everyone, says Flavio Lehner, a climate scientist at Cornell University who was part of the expedition, because the Arctic is a good “barometer” of the planet’s health.
Since the 1980s, the ice pack in the bay has decreased by nearly 50 percent in summer, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center.
“We see the more — the faster — changes here, because it is warming particularly fast,” says Lehner, who is Swiss.
The region is essential to the health of the global climate because the Arctic, he says, effectively provides the planet’s “air conditioning.”
“There’s this important feedback mechanism of sea ice and snow in general,” he says, with frozen areas reflecting 80 percent of the sun’s rays, providing a cooling effect.
When the Arctic loses its capacity to reflect those rays, he said, there will be consequences for temperatures around the globe.
Thus, when sea ice melts, the much darker ocean’s surface absorbs 80 percent of the sun’s rays, accelerating the warming trend.
A few years ago, scientists feared that the Arctic’s summer ice pack was rapidly reaching a climatic “tipping point” and, above a certain temperature, would disappear for good.
But more recent studies show the phenomenon could be reversible, Lehner says.
“Should we ever be able to bring temperatures down again, sea ice will come back,” he says.
That said, the impact for now is pervasive.
“In the Arctic, climate change is impacting all species,” says Jane Waterman, a biologist at the University of Manitoba. “Every single thing is being affected by climate change.”
Permafrost — defined as land that is permanently frozen for two successive years — has begun to melt, and in Churchill the very contours of the land have shifted, damaging rail lines and the habitat of wild species.
The entire food chain is under threat, with some non-native species, like certain foxes and wolves, appearing for the first time, endangering Arctic species.
Nothing is safe, says Waterman, from the tiniest bacteria to enormous whales.

Beluya whales also affected

That includes the beluga whales that migrate each summer — by the tens of thousands — from Arctic waters to the refuge of the Hudson Bay.
These small white whales are often spotted in the bay’s vast blue waters.

A polar bear swims to catch a beluga whale along the coast of Hudson Bay near Churchill on August 9, 2022. (Olivier Morin / AFP)

Swimming in small groups, they like to follow the boats of scientists who have come to study them, seemingly taking pleasure in showing off their large round heads and spouting just feet from captivated observers.
The smallest ones, gray in color, cling to their mothers’ backs in this estuary, with its relatively warm waters, where they find protection from killer whales and plentiful nourishment.
But there has been “a shift in prey availability for beluga whales in some areas of the Arctic,” explains Valeria Vergara, an Argentine researcher who has spent her life studying the beluga.
As the ice cover shrinks, “there’s less under the surface of the ice for the phytoplankton that in turn will feed the zooplankton that in turn will feed big fish,” says Vergara, who is with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
The beluga has to dive deeper to find food, and that uses up precious energy.
And another danger lurks: Some climate models suggest that as early as 2030, with the ice fast melting, boats will be able to navigate the Hudson Bay year-round.
Sound pollution is a major problem for the species — known as the “canary of the seas” — whose communication depends on the clicking and whistling sounds it makes.
The beluga depends on sound-based communication to determine its location, find its way and to locate food, Vergara says.
Thanks to a hydrophone on the “Beluga Boat” that Vergara uses, humans can monitor the “conversations” of whales far below the surface.
Vergara, 53, describes their communications as “very complex,” and she can distinguish between the cries made by mother whales keeping in contact with their youngsters.
To the untrained ear, the sound is a cacophony, but clearly that of an animated community. Scientists wonder, however, how much longer such communities will last?
Far from the Arctic ice one lonely beluga became lost in the waters of France’s Seine river before dying in August. And in May a polar bear meandered its way deep into Canada’s south, shocking those who discovered it along the Saint Lawrence River.


At least 6 people wounded in shooting at school in Oakland

At least 6 people wounded in shooting at school in Oakland
Updated 29 September 2022

At least 6 people wounded in shooting at school in Oakland

At least 6 people wounded in shooting at school in Oakland

OAKLAND, California: At least six people were wounded in a shooting at a school in Oakland on Wednesday, officials said.
The scene of the shooting was “no longer active,” according to Alameda County Sheriff spokesperson Lt. Ray Kelly. Paramedics had transported six patients to hospitals, all with gunshot wounds, according to Oakland Fire Department spokesperson Michael Hunt.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf tweeted that all of the wounded were adults and the shooting happened at Sojourner Truth Independent Study, an alternative K-12 school.
Officials didn’t say if any of the victims might be students age 18 or older.
Three of the wounded were in critical condition at Highland Hospital in Oakland, the other three were taken to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley and their conditions were not known, officials said.
John Sasaki, a spokesperson for Oakland Unified School District, said in a statement that district officials “do not have any information beyond what Oakland Police are reporting.” He said the Sojourner Truth Independent Study headquarters has no students and is located on the same block as three other schools.
Television footage showed dozens of police cars and yellow tape on the street outside the school and students leaving nearby campuses.
City Council Member Treva Reid said investigators told her the shooting may be tied to rising “group and gang violence.”
Oakland Police Capt. Casey Johnson confirmed in a brief news conference that six people were shot, and didn’t answer any questions.
City Council Member Loren Taylor, who was outside the school, declined to confirm any details about the incident, telling KTVU-TV, “Guns were on our school campuses where our babies were supposed to be protected.”


Hurricane Ian swamps southwest Florida, trapping people in homes

Hurricane Ian swamps southwest Florida, trapping people in homes
Updated 29 September 2022

Hurricane Ian swamps southwest Florida, trapping people in homes

Hurricane Ian swamps southwest Florida, trapping people in homes

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida: Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in the US, swamped southwest Florida on Wednesday, flooding streets and buildings, knocking out power to over 1 million people and threatening catastrophic damage further inland.
A coastal sheriff’s office reported that it was getting many calls from people trapped in homes. The hurricane’s center struck near Cayo Costa, a protected barrier island just west of heavily populated Fort Myers.
Mark Pritchett stepped outside his home in Venice around the time the hurricane churned ashore from the Gulf of Mexico, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) to the south. He called it “terrifying.”
“I literally couldn’t stand against the wind,” Pritchett wrote in a text message. “Rain shooting like needles. My street is a river. Limbs and trees down. And the worst is yet to come.”
The Category 4 storm slammed the coast with 150 mph (241 kph) winds and pushed a wall of storm surge accumulated during its slow march over the Gulf. More than 1.1 million Florida homes and businesses were without electricity. The storm previously tore into Cuba, killing two people and bringing down the country’s electrical grid.
About 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate southwest Florida before Ian hit, but by law no one could be forced to flee.
News anchors at Fort Myers television station WINK had to abandon their usual desk and continue storm coverage from another location in their newsroom because water was pushing into their building near the Caloosahatchee River.
Though expected to weaken to a tropical storm as it marched inland at about 9 mph (14 kph), Ian’s hurricane force winds were likely to be felt well into central Florida. Hours after landfall, top sustained winds had dropped to 130 mph (210 kph). Still, storm surges as high as 6 feet (2 meters) were expected on the opposite side of the state, in northeast Florida.
“This is going to be a nasty nasty day, two days,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, urging people in Ian’s path along the Atlantic coast to rush to the safest possible shelter and stay there.
Jackson Boone left his home near the Gulf coast and hunkered down at his law office in Venice with employees and their pets. Boone at one point opened a door to howling wind and rain flying sideways.
“We’re seeing tree damage, horizontal rain, very high wind,” Boone said by phone. “We have a 50-plus-year-old oak tree that has toppled over.”
In Naples, the first floor of a fire station was inundated with about 3 feet (1 meter) of water and firefighters worked to salvage gear from a firetruck stuck outside the garage in even deeper water, a video posted by the Naples Fire Department showed. Naples is in Collier County, where the sheriff’s department reported on Facebook that it was getting “a significant number of calls of people trapped by water in their homes” and that it would prioritize reaching people “reporting life threatening medical emergencies in deep water.”

Gusts from Hurricane Ian hit in Punta Gorda, Florida on September 28, 2022. (AFP)


Ian’s strength at landfall tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane when measured by wind speed to strike the US Among the other storms was Hurricane Charley, which hit nearly the same spot on Florida’s coast in August 2004, killing 10 people and inflicting $14 billion in damage.
Ian had strengthened rapidly overnight, prompting Fort Myers handyman Tom Hawver to abandon his plan to weather the hurricane at home. He headed across the state to Fort Lauderdale.
“We were going to stay and then just decided when we got up, and they said 155 mph winds,” Hawver said. “We don’t have a generator. I just don’t see the advantage of sitting there in the dark, in a hot house, watching water come in.”
Florida residents rushed ahead of landfall to board up homes, stash precious belongings on upper floors and join long lines of cars leaving the shore.
Some decided to try and ride out the storm. Jared Lewis, a Tampa delivery driver, said his home has withstood hurricanes in the past, though not as powerful as Ian.
“It is kind of scary, makes you a bit anxious,” Lewis said. “After the last year of not having any, now you go to a Category 4 or 5. We are more used to the 2s and 3s.”
Ian made landfall more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Tampa and St. Petersburg, sparing the densely populated Tampa Bay area from its first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.
Flash floods were possible all across Florida. Hazards include the polluted leftovers of Florida’s phosphate fertilizer mining industry, more than 1 billion tons of slightly radioactive waste contained in enormous ponds that could overflow in heavy rains.
The federal government sent 300 ambulances with medical teams and was ready to truck in 3.7 million meals and 3.5 million liters of water once the storm passes.
“We’ll be there to help you clean up and rebuild, to help Florida get moving again,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday. “And we’ll be there every step of the way. That’s my absolute commitment to the people of the state of Florida.”
DeSantis has requested Biden grant a Major Disaster Declaration for all 67 of the state’s counties, which would open a range of federal assistance for residents and funding for public infrastructure repairs. DeSantis has also requested Biden allow FEMA to provide a 100 percent federal cost share for debris removal and emergency protective measures for 60 days.
The governors of Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina all preemptively declared states of emergency. Forecasters predicted Ian will turn toward those states as a tropical storm, likely dumping more flooding rains into the weekend, after crossing Florida.


Is it the end of Japan’s neutrality?

Is it the end of Japan’s neutrality?
Updated 29 September 2022

Is it the end of Japan’s neutrality?

Is it the end of Japan’s neutrality?
  • Detention of consul by Russia for alleged spying comes hard on the heels of defense deals with Israel
  • Twin developments have called into question Japan’s neutrality, exposed its diplomatic vulnerabilities

DUBAI: As the security environment surrounding Japan becomes more severe, maintaining a favorable balance of power has become an increasingly delicate task for Tokyo, which faces challenges on three major strategic fronts: China, North Korea and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Yet, two developments in the space of just two months have called Japan’s neutrality into question and exposed its diplomatic vulnerabilities.

In the latest incident, the principal security agency of Russia on Monday detained a Japanese consul in Vladivostok, in the country’s far east, on suspicion that he was obtaining information illegally in exchange for money.

The diplomat, Tatsunori Motoki, was subsequently ordered by the Russian Foreign Ministry to leave the country within 48 hours and an announcement made to the effect that a senior Japanese Embassy official in Moscow had been summoned to protest against his alleged improper acquisition of information.

Japanese diplomat Tatsunori Motoki was ordered out of Russia over spying claims. (AFP)

“A Japanese diplomat was detained red-handed while receiving classified information, in exchange for money, about Russia’s cooperation with another country in the Asia-Pacific region,” the FSB security service said in a statement quoted by Russian news media.

On Tuesday, a Japanese government official said the consul had been released.

Nevertheless, on the same day, Takeo Mori, Japan’s vice foreign minister, summoned Mikhail Galuzin, the Russian ambassador, to the foreign ministry’s office in Tokyo to lodge a formal a protest over the Japanese consul’s detention.

Separately, Hayashi Yoshimasa, the foreign minister, said that detaining and interrogating a consul is a “clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations,” as well as of a consular treaty between Japan and Russia.

IN NUMBER

$40 billion - Amount sought by Japan’s defense ministry for budget as country faces its ‘toughest challenges’ since the Second World War.

Hayashi said Russia’s action was “totally unacceptable,” and claimed that Motoki was taken away blindfolded and restrained before being subjected to high-handed questioning.

He denied the Russian allegation that Motoki had engaged in illegal activities.

Russia’s Federal Security Service said the Japanese consul obtained nonpublic information on Russia’s cooperative ties with an unnamed Asia-Pacific country and also on the effects of Western sanctions on the economic situation in Russia’s Far East by offering money.

The Russian agency also released secretly shot images of a person who appears to be the consul receiving documents at a restaurant.

Russia recently designated Japan as an unfriendly country in response to Tokyo’s cooperation with US and European countries on imposing sanctions on Moscow following its invasion of Ukraine.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Japan's Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada (R) signing the Japan-Israel Defense exchange memorandum of understanding in Tokyo on August 30, 2022. (AFP)

The first diplomatic development that cast doubt on Japan’s neutrality was its decision sign a defense agreement with Israel in August.

The deal was part of an effort to boost defense cooperation between the two countries, particularly in the area of military hardware and technology. But it potentially diminishes Tokyo’s ability to remain even-handed when it come to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Japan has long been hailed as an impartial broker of a future deal between Israel and the Palestinians. In 2019, a joint Arab News Japan-YouGov survey found that 56 percent of Arabs view Japan as the most credible potential candidate to act as a Middle East peace mediator.

On his trip to Tokyo, Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, met with Hayashi, who took pains to reiterate his government’s support for a two-state solution to solve the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Japanese analyst Koichiro Tanaka, a professor at Tokyo’s Keio University, believes the expansion of the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreements signed between Israel and several Arab states in 2020, has relieved Japan of this mediator role.

“Japan feels relieved from the pressure that existed in trying to balance its Middle East policy with its energy security,” Tanaka told Arab News Japan.

Mindful of the need to maintain allies in its own standoff with China, Japan’s primary foreign-policy goal has been to “appease Washington,” he said. With that comes the expectation of “making friends” with Israel.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Japan's Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada (R) during their bilateral defense meeting in Tokyo on August 30, 2022. (AFP)

“Japan’s role to mediate has never materialized because of US reluctance and rejection by Israel of such a role,” Tanaka said.

The Abraham Accords were the first public expressions of normalization between Arab states and Israel since 1994. When the agreements were announced, Tomoyuki Yoshida, Japan’s former foreign press secretary, called it a “positive development” that could “ease tensions and stabilize the region.”

He reiterated that Japan supported a “two-state solution” whereby Israel and a future independent Palestinian state “live side by side in peace and security.”

In this December 25, 2017 photo, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono (L) meets with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP file)

However, with Japan’s increasingly tense relationship with China and North Korea, the country has been expanding its military cooperation beyond its traditional ally, the US, to other nations in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.

It is particularly concerned about Beijing’s military actions in the East and South China Seas. Israel has previously traded weapons with China and is the second-largest foreign supplier of arms after Russia.

China has accumulated a large arsenal of advanced military equipment and technology. The US has strongly opposed Israel’s arms trade with China. However, Israel has largely ignored Washington’s objections.

Some observers suspect Israel and China’s close trade relationship is the reason Japan has chosen to boost defense cooperation with Israel.

Japanese military strategists have been looking for ways to ease their defensive reliance on the US, potentially viewing Israel as a source of weapons and technology to strengthen Tokyo’s military power in the region.

But with the signing of the new defense deal with Israel, is Tokyo still in a position to mediate between Israel and Palestine?

Waleed Siam, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Tokyo, told Arab News Japan that the Japanese government is “mostly supportive” of the two sides.

“Japan has a long history with Israel, but I believe Japan could still be part of the neutrality in helping both sides achieve settlements,” he said.

Siam said Palestinians, and the Arab world in general, have great respect for Japan, noting that Tokyo “always has supported the Palestinians to the highest degree, through many UN organizations.

“Japan is committed to helping the state of Palestine and has also always stuck to the UN resolution, refusing to recognize East Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and never recognized Israel’s illegal settlements.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (2nd-L) and Japanese PM Fumio Kishida talk during their bilateral meeting at Akasaka Palace state guest house in Tokyo on September 28, 2022. (AFP)

Asked whether Japan should have first reassured the Palestinian side of its continued neutrality before striking its security deal with Israel, Siam said Tokyo has the “right to do what it wants.”

He added: “Japan does not have to guarantee anything, because it stands very firm on its conviction with the international community and the UN resolution. It supports a two-state solution and the Palestinians’ right to independence.

“Even during the Trump period, when the former US president was pressuring everyone to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Japan stood strong in the UN and voted against it.”

Opinion

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However, Siam believes any country that signs an agreement with Israel should also place an emphasis on compliance with international law and human rights.

“I call on Japan to use this kind of deep friendship with Israel to put pressure on the Israelis to comply with international law,” said Siam. “If the international community does not stand together and pressure Israel into a two-state solution, there will never be peace.”

Israel has been the “largest obstacle” to finalizing a large agro-industrial park and logistics initiative in Jericho, proposed by Japan, called the “Corridor for Peace,” said Siam.

Japan, he argues, could utilize its deepening relations with Israel to help finalize the project.

During the 11-day war in Gaza in May 2021, Japan was adamant that all UN resolutions and international laws should be followed, reiterating its “clear, respecting and supporting” position in the conflict, said Siam.

Japan has long framed itself as the country most capable of negotiating a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

In the final analysis, few can argue that strengthening its military capabilities and investing in defense technology is a step in the right direction by Japan. But it clearly needs to be more diplomatic in pulling them off.