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

January 6, 2022 | Abraham Cooper and Kinue Tokudome
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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.

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