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Japan to send helicopter-carrying destroyer & spy planes to ensure ‘safe passage’ of oil from increasingly crowded Middle East

Japan to send helicopter-carrying destroyer & spy planes to ensure ‘safe passage’ of oil from increasingly crowded Middle East
The Japanese PM’s cabinet approved a plan to send warship and surveillance planes to the Middle East, framing the controversial mission as “study and research activities” separate from the US’ initiative to contain Iran.

Tokyo is expected to send a destroyer with 200 crew members and carrying up to two patrol helicopters alongside two P-3C anti-submarine patrol airplanes to the Gulf of Oman sometime in February for a year-long mission.

The deployment is styled as a “study and research” mission to ensure “safe passage” for Japanese vessels through the region from which Tokyo receives 90 percent of its oil imports. However, in case of “unexpected developments,” local media reports, a special order might be issued by the Japanese defense minister to allow the ‘Self-Defense Force’ to use weapons.

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The possibility of Japanese deployment to the region was first voiced after a Japanese oil tanker came under attack in June – which, by pure coincidence, occurred just as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei.

Washington blamed Tehran for that and other attacks, pitching the idea of a maritime ‘policing’ mission but finding little enthusiasm among its allies. Besides Bahrain and the UAE, only the UK agreed to send a couple of destroyers after an embarrassing incident when it tried to seize an Iranian tanker under a bogus pretext only to get its own vessel impounded in a tit-for-tat response. Saudi Arabia joined the naval alliance after a drone attack – which was also pinned on Iran – targeted a major oil facility in the country. In addition, Australia promised to join next year and the US says it’s only a “matter of time” until Qatar and Kuwait also join.

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France, in the meantime, is spearheading a European-led mission independent of the US-led maritime initiative, as the US failed to convince European allies that its gunboat diplomacy was indeed only aimed at ‘protecting’ crucial waterways rather than enforcing Washington’s unilateral sanctions on Iran.

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