Japan’s forbidden fruit

How Abe’s landslide victory and Japan’s security challenges open a new door for Israeli security tech

PM Netanyahu and PM of Japan Shinzo Abe‏ (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
PM Netanyahu and PM of Japan Shinzo Abe‏
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has had quite a month. Of the North Korean missile tests that rocked Japan, Abe’s landslide reelection, and US President Donald Trump’s visit, the most attention that Japan got in Western media was pictures of President Trump dumping a whole box of fish food into a Koi pond as he and Prime Minister Abe were feeding the fish. Abe dumped his in first, it turns out.
In more relevant news, Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) secured a two-thirds majority in the Japanese Diet, together with his coalition partner Komeito. This consolidation of power comes as the Far East sees a show of force from China, fresh off its 19th Party Congress, announcing plans to “move closer to center stage” and allowing Chinese President Xi Jinping more control than any Chinese leader since Mao. North Korea, promising it would “sink Japan,” rattled its sabers in an unprecedented launching of missiles over Japan, prompting emergency sirens and automated text messages in the northern part of the country.
The LDP’s platform leaned heavily on Abe’s desire to reinterpret article 9 of the Japanese constitution, under which Japan renounces its right to go to war to resolve international conflicts. A remnant of the US occupation and rebuilding of post-WWII Japan, article 9 has prevented Japan from developing its defensive capabilities and forced its dependence on the US. The article is a highly sensitive political issue in Japan, and Abe’s recent mandate will allow him to attempt to build the necessary consensus to reinterpret the article and reinvigorate Japan’s defensive capabilities.
Japan, like Israel, enjoys a “special relationship” with the US, and is one of its closest allies. Unlike Israel, Japan is almost totally dependent on the US for defense. This has caused a decades-old stranglehold on Japanese military contracts and technology exchange, with the Japanese Self-Defense Force purchasing all of its foreign-made military gear, from socks to missile defense systems, exclusively from the US. This status quo is not expected to change soon, but the new challenges that Japan faces have opened a few windows for Israeli defensive capabilities.
First, Israeli cyber technology has become a buzzword for many Japanese companies.
Though the Japanese have excellent cyber capabilities of their own, the rising prominence of Israeli cyber experience and knowhow has caused a flurry of business between the two countries, with Israeli government agencies and leading cyber firms sending frequent delegations to Japan and even participating in cyber-warfare simulations. Just this month, a first-ever Israeli cyber convention will take place in Tokyo.
Second, Homeland Security (HLS) technologies have been finding their way to Japanese suppliers of the Japanese government. Once taboo, Israeli pseudo-defensive tech such as surveillance balloons, radars and communication components have been sold and successfully integrated into Japanese agencies via local resellers. These are the first successes in the rush to find the holy grail of Japanese contracts – suppliers of the 2020 Olympic Games.
If Japan is using the games as a stage to the world, Israel is using them as a stage to Japan.
Israeli companies specializing in security doctrines and training are already opening offices in Tokyo, looking to bring Israel’s bitter experience and hard-earned security savvy to Japan, and the Japanese are receiving them warmly.
Though the road is still long, I believe that Prime Minister Abe’s push to revitalize Japan’s defensive capabilities, against the backdrop of the mounting security threats Japan faces, presents significant opportunities for Israeli security capabilities to find new markets in Japan, in a way that they never could before.
The writer is an Israel-Asia business consultant. He serves as the Asia director for StandWithUs and is an Israel-Asia Center Leaders Fellow. @GiladKabilo