Japan’s Oil Diplomacy: Navigating the Complexities of the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Japan’s response to Hamas attacks on Israel has been influenced by concerns about energy security and its diverse diplomatic interests in the Middle East. Initially, Japan remained neutral, but its hesitancy may complicate its stance with its G7 peers.

Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa stated that peace and stability in the region are crucial for Japan’s energy security, as it supplies over 90% of its needs.

The conflict has had little impact on global oil and gas supplies, and Israel is not a significant producer. Investors and market observers are assessing the potential escalated Hamas attacks and their impact on oil-producing countries. Japan condemned the attacks and expressed concern, but did not label them as terrorism or Israel’s right to defend itself until October 11.

Japan’s hesitancy may complicate its stance with its G7 peers as it prepares to host a meeting of the group’s foreign ministers in Tokyo next month, where the spiralling conflict is expected to dominate.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was not among the five G7 leaders who signed a statement on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis on October 9, leading to questions about the unity of the group’s response. G7 finance ministers issued a brief statement on the attacks on October 12.

Japan has been trying to steer a neutral course through the dispute by calling for a negotiated settlement, although it has criticised Israel for allowing settlements outside the country’s 1967 border. This approach has been driven by painful memories of the 1973 oil crisis, when Middle East producers issued an embargo targeting nations, including Japan, that supported Israel during its war with Arab states.

Japan, a energy-poor country, has been attempting to maintain ties with Saudi Arabia and Iran, the region’s major oil producers, despite the ongoing crisis in the Middle East. The country’s Middle East policy has been to maintain energy imports from the region, and Japan is now grappling with how to respond to the crisis while maintaining its interests in the region.

A US official said there is a “gap” between Tokyo and Washington’s position on the crisis, and Japan is “walking a fine line” in responding to events while maintaining its interests in the region. Japan is also wary of being seen as its proxy in the Middle East, as it may be perceived as following the US.

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