Despite certain political differences, Israel and Japan are intending to boost their ties, especially in trade, defence, and tech
The rising frequency of high-level reciprocal bilateral visits of leaders during the last two decades has clearly demonstrated the appetite to enhance cooperation.With both countries commemorating the 70th year of diplomatic relations in 2022, they have made systematic moves to enhance their cooperation in almost all the traditional sectors—economic, science and technology, defence-security, people-to-people, culture, and so on. The rising frequency of high-level reciprocal bilateral visits of leaders during the last two decades has clearly demonstrated the appetite to enhance cooperation. As a result of the political goodwill of Israeli and Japanese leadership to boost relations, particularly from the mid-2010s onwards, there has been a simultaneous expansion not only in the financial-commercial sectors but also in defence cooperation. Economic ties between Israel and Japan are progressing, with bilateral trade volume touching US$3.5 billion in 2021-22. In late 2022, the two countries initiated the process to sign a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to enhance bilateral ties. It is noteworthy that the first meeting of a possible Japan-Israel Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), albeit virtually, was held in March 2023. Such mechanisms will prove to be beneficial to the firms operating in both countries, creating favourable conditions for both to enter each other’s markets.
The introduction of direct El Al (Israeli national carrier) flights between Israel and Tokyo and the signing of the ‘holiday-work visa’ in March and April this year, respectively, will likely lead to further growth in the socio-cultural-economic ties.The visits of the Israeli Prime Minister to Japan in May 2014 and that of his then-Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, to Israel in January 2015, had played an instrumental role in making the investment climate conducive. This resulted in a considerable surge in investment. Now, the introduction of direct El Al (Israeli national carrier) flights between Israel and Tokyo and the signing of the ‘holiday-work visa’ in March and April this year, respectively, will likely lead to further growth in the socio-cultural-economic ties. Professionals from the high-tech sectors are expected to benefit from this formal arrangement.
Israel’s defence industries have had to contend with challenges stemming from the global arms landscape, which has become increasingly competitive.Notwithstanding the politico-economic incentives, Israel could accrue from transferring arms to Japan; the latter also searches for defence partners as it is embarking on a major military modernisation drive, triggered by the increasing threat perceptions from a militarily emboldened China, and also North Korea. Due to such looming security threats and challenges, Japanese decision-makers unveiled (in December 2022) a US$52 billion defence budget for 2023 for the Japanese Self-Defence Forces (JSDF). A bulk of this amount would be utilised in the procurement of armaments, defence R&D programmes, and to support its “domestic manufacturing and maintenance capacity”. This, therefore, provides an opportunity for Israeli firms to get closer to the Japanese defence establishments to clinch arms deals. With its advancement in the field of missiles, anti-missile systems, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), naval defence items, electronic warfare systems, airborne early warning systems, arms and ammunitions, communication and targeting systems, etc., Israeli defence firms (state and private) should endeavour towards securing arms deals with Japan. Establishing defence ties appear to be timely for Israel, too, as it looks for new arms markets while Japan is gradually expanding its military-security cooperation beyond its traditional partners, including the US and the United Kingdom (UK). Indeed, a fusion of Israeli and Japanese defence technologies could result in significant innovations and co-production of equipment suitable to both the countries, which, then, can be exported to potential buyers in the region and beyond. The participation of 14 Israeli defence industries’ delegations at the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition, held in Tokyo in March 2023, is construable as a prelude to more interactions in this prospective sphere. As a beginner, unmanned aerial systems (UAS) is one category in which Israel and Japan can jointly collaborate, and this will make sense, considering Japan’s ambitions to use hundreds of attack drones in the next couple of years.
A fusion of Israeli and Japanese defence technologies could result in significant innovations and co-production of equipment suitable to both the countries, which, then, can be exported to potential buyers in the region and beyond.
The increment in Japan’s defence budget should also be beneficial for the Israeli cyber firms, too, as it can look forward to winning new contracts from the Japanese government.The realisation on both ends that they (Israel & Japan) have more to gain out of robust cooperation with each other, due to convergences of interests—economic, defence, strategic, technological, and political—is what is now propelling the relations. The existing direction of the overall cooperation signals both countries’ investment in relations, and they would do whatever it takes to preserve the growing momentum, not letting any third party stymie the steady progress.
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Dr. Alvite Ningthoujam is an Assistant Professor at the Symbiosis School of International Studies (SSIS) Symbiosis International (Deemed University) Pune Maharashtra. Prior to this he ...Read More +