Will security deal with Israel jeopardize Japan’s impartial image in the Middle East?

Special Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, and his Japanese counterpart Yasukazu Hamada agree to strengthen defense cooperation at a meeting in Tokyo. The deal comes as Japan looks to step up its role in the Mideast peace process. (AP)
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, and his Japanese counterpart Yasukazu Hamada agree to strengthen defense cooperation at a meeting in Tokyo. The deal comes as Japan looks to step up its role in the Mideast peace process. (AP)
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Updated 04 September 2022

Will security deal with Israel jeopardize Japan’s impartial image in the Middle East?

Will security deal with Israel jeopardize Japan’s impartial image in the Middle East?
  • A 2019 Arab News-YouGov poll highlighted Japan’s reputation as a future fair mediator between Israelis and Palestinians
  • Palestinian ambassador in Tokyo urges Japan to use friendship to pressure Israel to comply with international law

DUBAI: Yasukazu Hamada, Japan’s defense minister, met with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Gantz in Tokyo on Aug. 30 as part of an ongoing effort to boost defense cooperation between the two countries, including in military hardware and technology.

Hamada and Gantz signed a memorandum on defense exchanges and agreed to continue working together to achieve regional peace and stability. However, the development calls into question Tokyo’s ability to maintain its reputation for even-handedness vis-a-vis 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, Gantz also met with Yoshimasa Hayashi, Japan’s foreign minister, who was keen to reiterate his government’s support for a two-state solution to solve the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

However, 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.




Palestinians are blocked by Israeli security forces as they try to stop the demolition of their home, located within the "Area C" of the occupied West Bank. (AFP)

“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,” said Tanaka. With that comes the expectation of “making friends” with Israel.

“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 first announced, Tomoyuki Yoshida, Japan’s former foreign press secretary, called it a “positive development” that could “ease tensions and stabilize the region.”

Nevertheless, Yoshida said Japan continues to support a “two-state solution” whereby Israel and a future independent Palestinian state “live side by side in peace and security.”

With the signing of its new defense deal with Israel, is Tokyo still in a position to neutrally mediate on the Palestinian question?

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 help 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,” said Siam.




The Israeli army blows up the family house of Diaa Hamarsha, a Palestinian who in March killed five people in a gun attack in Bnei Brak, in the village of Yabad near the occupied West Bank town of Jenin. (AFP)

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

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

He added: “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.”

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 long 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.




Japan has reiterated its support for a two-state solution to end the IsraelPalestinian conflict. (AFP/Australian Defence Force)

During the 11-day war in Gaza in May 2021, Japan was adamant about ensuring all UN resolutions and international laws were 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 a 2019 interview with Arab News, Taro Kono, Japan’s then-foreign minister, said it was vital for Tokyo to “play a bigger political role” in the region, because “Japan is religiously and ethnically very neutral.” 

Kono said Japan could also serve as an “honest broker in the Middle East, as we have no colonial history or negative footprint in the region.”

Speaking on Japan’s support for Palestine, Kono said Japan had been “heavily investing in the West Bank,” working with Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians to set up and develop an industrial park in Jericho.




A masked protester waves a Palestinian flag near a tire fire during clashes with Israeli forces following a protest to denounce the annual nationalist "flag march" through Jerusalem. (AFP)

“I think we should all play some role to get the peace process rolling forward and we would be very happy to be involved in this process,” Kono added.

With Japan’s increasing tensions 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 believe Israel and China’s close trade relationship could be the reason why Japan has chosen to boost defense cooperation with Israel. 

Indeed, 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.

 


Lebanon’s banks to reopen on Monday

Lebanon’s banks to reopen on Monday
Updated 12 min 5 sec ago

Lebanon’s banks to reopen on Monday

Lebanon’s banks to reopen on Monday

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s banks will reopen on Monday, with each taking their own measures, the country’s banking association said in a statement on Sunday.
The country’s banks have shut for about five days following a spree of bank hold-ups by depositors seeking access to their savings.


At UNGA, UAE minister demands return of 3 islands seized by Iran

At UNGA, UAE minister demands return of 3 islands seized by Iran
Updated 25 September 2022

At UNGA, UAE minister demands return of 3 islands seized by Iran

At UNGA, UAE minister demands return of 3 islands seized by Iran

NEW YORK: The United Arab Emirates on Saturday urged Iran to return to the Gulf state the three islands it had been illegally occupying for the past five decades.

In an address before the General Debate of the 77th United Nations General Assembly in New York City, Reem Al Hashimy, UAE's Minister of State for International Cooperation, said Iran's occupation of the three islands was a violation of the sovereignty.

"... we renew our demand for an end to Iran's occupation of the three UAE islands: Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Musa – the UAE’s sovereignty over which is proven by history and international law," Hashimy said.

Iran seized the three islands in November 1971 shortly after British forces were pulled out. The islands are all located in the Strait of Hormuz between the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

"Despite the UAE’s sincere calls to peacefully resolve this conflict over the past five decades, we stress here that Iran has not responded. We will never relent in voicing our claim to these islands either through direct negotiations or through the International Court of Justice, as is our legitimate right," Hashimy said.

Iran has been accused by its Arab neighbors and members and the West of seeking to destabilize the region by funding and arming its proxy militias, including the Hezbollah of Lebanon, the Houthis of Yemen, and other militants in the Palestinian territories and in Iraq.

On Sunday, the UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan met with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

During the meeting, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed called for strengthening international cooperation to achieve stability and peace in the region and achieve the aspirations of people, according to a statement on the Emirates News Agency (WAM).

Both officials discussed bilateral relations and ways to enhance cooperation between the two countries to achieve their common interests. They also exchanged views on regional and international developments and reviewed several issues on the agenda of the General Assembly.

 

 


Palestinian killed by Israeli fire in West Bank

Palestinian killed by Israeli fire in West Bank
Updated 25 September 2022

Palestinian killed by Israeli fire in West Bank

Palestinian killed by Israeli fire in West Bank

NABLUS: Israeli troops killed a Palestinian militant in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, Palestinian sources said, with Israel’s army saying soldiers fired on “armed suspects” during a routine patrol.
The army said that “hits were identified” after soldiers fired toward “armed suspects driving in a vehicle and a motorcycle” near Nablus in the northern West Bank, an area that has seen near daily violence in recent months.
The Palestinian health ministry named the man killed as Saed Al-Koni.
A loose coalition of fighters called “The Lions Den” that has recently emerged in Nablus claimed Koni as one of their members.
Among the members of this group was teenager Ibrahim Al-Nabulsi, who has become a folk hero on social media since his killing by Israeli forces in August. Pendants of Al-Nabulsi are on sale in the markets of Nablus Old City.
Koni’s death was the second in the Nablus area in the past two days.
On Saturday, a Palestinian driver was killed by Israeli troops after what the army called an “attempted ramming attack,” but which Palestinians said was a traffic accident.
The army said soldiers and police opened fire on a vehicle after the driver “attempted to run them over” during a patrol outside Nablus.
The Palestinian foreign ministry described Muhammad Ali Hussein Awad, 36, as a “defenseless Palestinian” who was not “posing any danger.”
“The Israeli police deliberately shot Awad, with the aim of killing him, after his vehicle collided with a police vehicle in a traffic accident,” the ministry said.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the Six Day War of 1967.
Israeli forces have faced criticism over their frequent use of lethal force in response to perceived threats.
Israel is on high alert ahead of the Jewish high holiday season which begins on Sunday evening with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
Since March, Israel has launched hundreds of raids in the northern West Bank, including Nablus and nearby Jenin, in pursuit of individuals it accuses of involvement in deadly attacks targeting Israelis.
The raids have sparked clashes that have killed dozens of Palestinians.


President Alimi, UN Secretary General discuss peace efforts in Yemen

President Alimi, UN Secretary General discuss peace efforts in Yemen
Updated 25 September 2022

President Alimi, UN Secretary General discuss peace efforts in Yemen

President Alimi, UN Secretary General discuss peace efforts in Yemen

Dubai: Head of the Presidential Leadership Council in Yemen, Rashad al-Alimi, discussed on Saturday peace efforts with Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly's meetings.
Alimi welcomed the role of the UN and its secretary general’s efforts to stop the war in Yemen and to alleviate the severity of Yemen's crisis, state news agency SABA reported.
Alimi discussed the latest developments in Yemen, economic, service and right reforms adopted by the Presidential Council and the government..
The secretary general confirmed the commitment of the UN in supporting the presidential council and the government and mobilizing necessary resources to alleviate humanitarian suffering.
He also confirmed employing all efforts to tighten the truce and renewing it, resuming the political process and enabling Yemeni people to build their state.


German Chancellor arrives in UAE after Saudi Arabia visit

German Chancellor arrives in UAE after Saudi Arabia visit
Updated 25 September 2022

German Chancellor arrives in UAE after Saudi Arabia visit

German Chancellor arrives in UAE after Saudi Arabia visit
  • Scholz is scheduled to visit Qatar before going back to Berlin on Sunday night

DUBAI: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived in the UAE Saturday night on the second leg of a two-day tour to the Gulf region.

Scholz was welcomed by the UAE’s Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, and several officials at the Presidential Terminal of the Abu Dhabi International Airport, the Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.

Earlier, Scholz left Saudi Arabia after meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Both leaders reviewed aspects of Saudi-German relations and areas of partnership between the two countries, in addition to discussing prospects for bilateral cooperation and opportunities for its development in accordance with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

Scholz, accompanied by a large delegation that includes representatives of several economic sectors, is scheduled to visit Qatar before going back to Berlin on Sunday night.