How Japan and Israel Can Strengthen Their Alliance, and Why They Should

Unlike so many other countries that were slow to engage diplomatically with the Jewish state, Tokyo established bilateral relations with Jerusalem in 1953. More recently, formal ties have blossomed into something of an alliance, based on factors that are growing ever more important: both are closely aligned with the U.S. and located in strategically sensitive areas; the thaw in Israel’s conflict with the Arab world means that Japan no longer need fear collaboration with Israel will endanger its access to fossil fuels; and the two countries have complementary economic interests. Abraham Cooper and Kinue Tokudome explain the barriers to even closer relations between these “two unique democracies,” how can they can be overcome, and why they should be:

A few months ago, we published an op-ed piece in Japan, calling for Japan’s boycott of the 20th anniversary of the anti-Israel Durban Conference. Disappointingly, Japan went on to attend this anniversary event of the hate-filled anti-Semitic conference, rather than joining 37 major countries, including all other G7 members, that boycotted it. . . . Japan also provides direct aid to the Palestinian Authority while failing to condemn openly its “martyrs’ fund,” which provides monthly stipends to Palestinians who commit acts of terrorism against Israel and to the families of deceased terrorists. [Moreover], Japan maintains a “historically friendly relationship” with Iran.

But the good news is that Japanese and Israeli joint business ventures are at an all-time high. Israel is no longer a distant unfamiliar place to Japan but a true partner in the economic sphere. With shared democratic values and tech-driven economies, there’s much to be gained by forming a strong alliance between the two countries, or even one including the U.S.

However, if Japan sincerely wants to form such an alliance, we believe the Japanese government must show that Japan indeed shares the same values as Israel and the U.S. Otherwise, it appears Japan only wants to gain economic advantage, while politically it continues to act in ways that directly threaten Israel’s very existence.

Finally, it is our belief that the two governments can work closely to deepen and to expand the Abraham Accords across the Arab/Muslim world and beyond. Such efforts will also advance Japan’s foremost diplomatic policy, “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”—given the traditionally close relations between Israel and Australia and the recently flourishing one between Israel and India.

Read more at JNS

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel diplomacy, Japan

Saudi Arabia Should Open Its Doors to Israeli—and Palestinian—Pilgrims

On the evening of June 26 the annual period of the Hajj begins, during which Muslims from all over the world visit Mecca and perform prescribed religious rituals. Because of the de-jure state of war between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state, Israeli Muslim pilgrims—who usually number about 6,000—must take a circuitous (and often costly) route via a third country. The same is true for Palestinians. Mark Dubowitz and Tzvi Kahn, writing in the Saudi paper Arab News, urge Riyadh to reconsider its policy:

[I]f the kingdom now withholds consent for direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia, it would be a setback for those normalization efforts, not merely a continuation of the status quo. It is hard to see what the Saudis would gain from that.

One way to support the arrangement would be to include Palestinians in the deal. Israel might also consider earmarking its southern Ramon Airport for the flights. After all, Ramon is significantly closer to the kingdom than Ben-Gurion Airport, making for cheaper routes. Its seclusion from Israeli population centers would also help Israeli efforts to monitor outgoing passengers and incoming flights for security purposes.

A pilot program that ran between August and October proved promising, with dozens of Palestinians from the West Bank traveling back and forth from Ramon to Cyprus and Turkey. This program proceeded over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, which fears being sidelined by such accommodations. Jordan, too, has reason to be concerned about the loss of Palestinian passenger dinars at Amman’s airports.

But Palestinians deserve easier travel. Since Israel is willing to be magnanimous in this regard, Saudi Arabia can certainly follow suit by allowing Ramon to be the springboard for direct Hajj flights for Palestinian and Israeli Muslims alike. And that would be a net positive for efforts to normalize ties between [Jerusalem] and Riyadh.

Read more at Arab News

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia