Japan may send vessels to patrol Yemen instead of joining a US-led coalition to protect maritime transport in the Hormuz Strait amid mounting tensions with Iran, government sources said on Thursday.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration is reluctant to send the Marine Defense Force to the strait, a major shipping route through which about one-fifth of the world's oil passes, worried that this could damage Tokyo's friendly ties with Tehran.
But it is under increasing pressure from Washington to participate in the US effort, dubbed Operation Sentinel, with Pentagon Chief Mark Esper earlier this week urging Japan to "consider" it vehemently.
As a compromise, Japan is considering sending MSDF destroyers and P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait between Yemen and the Horn of Africa, sources said.
“We can't just do nothing,” said an Abe government official.
The mission would likely be occupied by forces already involved in anti-piracy operations in Somalia. Japanese ships would not be part of the US-led coalition, although the area of operations overlapped.
Abe hopes to discuss the matter with US President Donald Trump when he meets later this month in France on the sidelines of a G7 summit, according to sources, with a final decision dependent on how other US allies choose for proceeding.
Britain and Israel have announced they will join the coalition, but Germany has declined.
Currently, Abe government officials believe such a mission would be possible under existing legislation.
SDF's overseas activities are restricted under the war renunciation constitution.