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In Tokyo, Gantz signs defense deal with Japan as global tensions simmer

Defense minister meets with Japanese counterpart and inks deal to increase cooperation on military equipment and technology as the two nations celebrate 70 years of diplomatic ties

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Japan's Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada  shake hands during a signing of the Japan-Israel defense exchange memorandum of understanding after their bilateral meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, August 30, 2022. (David Mareuil/Pool Photo via AP)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Japan's Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada shake hands during a signing of the Japan-Israel defense exchange memorandum of understanding after their bilateral meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, August 30, 2022. (David Mareuil/Pool Photo via AP)

The defense ministers of Japan and Israel shared concerns on Tuesday about growing global tensions from Asia to the Middle East and signed an agreement to step up cooperation in military equipment and technology.

Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said he welcomes stronger military ties with Israel as a way to achieve a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” a vision advocated by Japan and the United States to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the region.

Hamada said peace and stability in the Middle East would also help Japan’s peace and prosperity. Both regions have key sea transportation lanes.

Japan and Israel, which are both strong US allies, are marking the 70th anniversary of their diplomatic ties this year.

Visiting Defense Minister Benny Gantz told a joint news conference after meeting with Hamada that strengthened defense cooperation “will elevate the 70 years of excellent ties between our countries to the strategic level.”

Their cooperation in broader areas from defense technology to information sharing and military-to-military activities “will strengthen the defense capability of each country as well as our joint contribution to peace and stability in our regions and all over the world,” he added.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, and Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi hold their bilateral talk at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. (AP/Shuji Kajiyama)

Accompanied by Israeli Ambassador to Japan Gilad Cohen, Gantz will also meet with Japanese government and security officials during his visit, including Cabinet Secretary Matsuno Hirokazu, the second most senior policymaker in Japan behind the prime minister.

According to a Defense Ministry statement, Gantz is also scheduled to meet with US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, the Jewish ex-mayor of Chicago and White House chief of staff under former US president Barak Obama.

Last week, Israel Air Force Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Eyal Grinboim visited Japan, meeting with Japan’s top air force commander General Shunji Izutsu, marking the first time an IAF official visited the country since 1991.

Ties between Israel and Japan have flourished in recent years, particularly with regard to bilateral trade.

In 2021, Japanese firms invested some $2.9 billion across 85 deals in Israeli companies, almost triple the amount in 2020, according to a study published in January by Harel-Hertz Investment House. In 2015 this figure totaled just $87 million.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz is in Japan to celebrate 70 years of diplomatic relations between the countries, August 29th, 2022 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Harel attributed the growth in economic integration between the two countries to the increasing volatility of the Chinese market following the US-China trade war, with Israeli investors seeing Japan as a safer alternative in East Asia.

Japan now accounts for 15.8% of all foreign investments in the Israeli tech industry, compared to just 1.8% in 2016, and 12% of the total investment (foreign and Israeli), wrote Elhanan Harel, the founder and president of Harel-Hertz and the author of the report.

Japan, which faces security challenges from China and North Korea and from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has been expanding its military cooperation beyond its traditional ally, the United States, to other friendly nations in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.

It is particularly concerned about Beijing’s assertive military actions in the East and South China Seas and growing tensions around Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China claims as its own territory.

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