Relations between Japan and Israel are warming, Reuters reports:
Over the past two years, Japan and Israel have strengthened business ties, signing a series of economic agreements on the back of a visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Israel in 2015 and Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Tokyo in 2014.
“Abe had a good impression; he liked Netanyahu’s mentality,” Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, told Reuters when he led a delegation from Keizai Doyukai, the Japanese business lobby, to Israel in May.
For years, trade between the two was minimal – Japan was reluctant to upset its oil suppliers, many of whom belong to the Arab League, which has long backed a boycott of Israel.
“Geopolitics is changing in the Middle East and as oil prices come down, strategically it’s not as important,” said Kobayashi. “Japan is changing its mind.”
Israel has been reaching out to everybody lately, from China to Russia to Africa—even, in a different way, to Saudi Arabia and Egypt. As with those relationships, getting closer to Japan is, among other things, a hedge against an increasingly unfriendly Europe.
But Japan has been reaching out around the world too, as it looks for economic partnerships which can strengthen its tech and industrial sectors. Japan is also intent on using its economic heft to expand its geopolitical influence. This has been particularly important for Tokyo because the country lacks a military to match its GDP—although Abe seems intent on changing that. Building a relationship with Israel gives Tokyo more leverage in the Middle East and helps Japan balance its reliance on Middle Eastern oil.
Japan’s efforts here indicate something else: Countries are learning they can work with Israel without alienating the Arabs. That may be because, as Reuters says, low oil prices are giving the Arab League less influence. But it might also be because some Arab leaders are themselves starting to work with Israel. Either way, Israel seems to be benefiting from the changing geopolitical landscape.