On 19th January, “Islamic State” (ISIS) released a video threatening that it would behead two Japanese hostages—Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa—unless the Japanese government pay 200 million dollars in 72 hours. Japanese Prime Minister Abe held a press conference and reproached ISIS with its dirty means as “unforgivable” but emphasised that Japan would not alter its Middle East policy, which aims to support the Middle Eastern countries with non-military fields such as humanitarian aid and infrastructure maintenance. Kenji Goto is a famous independent journalist who was covering lives of Syrians near the battlefield. Haruna Yukawa is a president of Japanese private military company.
What Abe Was Trying to Do
Abe’s Middle East policy mainly consists of financial support and human aids. He promised to invest a total of 2.5 billion dollars to the Middle East. It includes 200 million dollars for aid in refugees in Iraq and Syria; and support to resist ISIS in Turkey and Lebanon; also human development and infrastructure maintenance. Concerning Egypt, Japan will invest 360 million dollars to infrastructure such as an international airport and electricity supply. As for Iraq, Japan tries to build the society which attains the golden mean. Moreover, Palestine is one of Japanese crucial friends. Japan will support it in hygiene and medical field, water supply and refugees in Gaza and West Bank. PM Abe also proposed Palestine and Israel to restart peace talks for two-state solution.
However, “Jihadi John”, an ISIS member in the video, insists these supports are the action “to kill our women and children, to destroy the homes of the Muslims.” Nonetheless, Japan just supports refugees and rebuilds infrastructure, not fighting with arms; in other words, it invests money to help people, not enforce the military. It is nonsense to equate Japan with so-called “crusaders” represented by the Western forces. In spite of these facts, what Jihadi John was insisting is completely opposite from what Japan is actually trying to do. We know ISIS is stupid, but not this much. It seems that there may be another reason for this incident.
Why ISIS Is Demanding Ransom
This is the first time for ISIS to demand ransoms publicly. In the past, some foreign hostages of ISIS have been released because it is paid ransoms although the demand was based on political intentions. However, ISIS has never demanded any money publicly; the negotiations were behind closed doors. Meg Wagner explains this is because ISIS is in a financial pinch due to airstrikes by the US-led coalitions and oil price drop worldwide. They could be the reasons of the first demand for ransoms, but it is sort of doubtful because ISIS has never suggested the place or exactly time to negotiate or even pay ransoms in the video. Here, I would like to state a new theory regarding the intention of ISIS towards Japan. The thing is, some Arabs including ISIS despise Japan for the image that “Japan pays, it only pays.”
In Gulf War, Japan never dispatched any forces because its nation were strictly against sending Japan Self-Defence Forces to any foreign countries; but only invested money to the US-led Coalition Forces. This fact has made Japan strike some Arabs such as Kuwaiti people as the “free bank of the USA” and this kind of impression still remains amongst the feelings of some Arabs. As for ISIS, it knows Japan has nothing to do with “war by crusaders” in the sense of military and it does not even think Japan would pay 200 million dollars; this sum might only means rather contempt than financial resources. It can be also considered that it tries to show it’s against anyone on “crusaders’” side.
Moreover, most importantly, terrorists need to attract attentions with being scared. Many military experts explain that ISIS does not have a great weapons or soldiers but it does have one extremely strong ideology and strategy of expressing itself. In this case, ISIS has succeeded to make all the eyes in the world focused on its brutal actions and Japanese hostage crisis by being special case in that it demanded ransoms publicly for the first time and abducted two Japanese, the nation who are not considered as the side related to bombings and killings in the Middle East unlike the Western countries.
In short, ISIS is demanding a great deal of ransoms because it wants to show both disdain for Japanese financial aid to the West and the recognition that Japan is one of the Western members. Now ISIS has taken two Japanese men as hostages, Japanese nation cannot any longer ignore war in Syria and Iraq; or neglect ISIS presuming “terrorists in faraway country” although this feeling is quite common amongst Japanese people.
In fact, both Goto and Yukawa were kidnapped months ago. It is said Yukawa was abducted at latest on 17th August 2014, when Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs disclosed that there was Japanese taken as a hostage by ISIS. Goto had become known to him in April 2014 in Syria and visited there to both rescue him and report the lives of people in conflict in October 2014 and it has been out of touch with him since then. It has been at least two and a half months since Goto was kidnapped; and as for Yukawa, his abduction was more than five months ago. Furthermore, ISIS even said that it would not behead Yukawa or demand ransom for his life before. Then why ISIS threatens Japanese government with beheading these two Japanese men at this time?
From 16th to 21st January, PM Abe visited the Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Palestine to express Japanese support to the Middle East including these countries. The video was released on 19th, when he was in Israel asking Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to advance the peace talk with Palestine. Since he heard the news of Japanese hostages these, he had to hold a press conference in occupied Jerusalem. It means he must speak between the Japanese and Israeli flags—which could be seen as a false scene in the sense that Japanese Prime Minister supports Israel but not about Palestine.
This press conference of course broadcasted all over the world; making the sight unforgettable. ISIS might release the video at that certain time on purpose. PM Abe in press conference between the Japanese flag and Israeli flag can strike a negative impact on some Arabs like anti-Zionists. By doing this, ISIS could succeed to make Japan cut a “pro-Israel” figure to some Arab society. It is pretty likely to happen that the photo of Japanese PM Abe with the Israeli flag will be used in order to show Japanese “pro-Israel” and “anti-Arab” attitudes by extremists or terrorists. That would be a nightmare.
What is worse, Netanyahu said Japan would be made to get involved in war on terror. It is easy to surmise that his real intention was “you have to follow us.” The practical demand for participation in war on terror by Israeli Prime Minister—no so-called Islamic terrorists will neglect this fact. They would seize this opportunity and declare war against the Eastern pagan country which gives a large amount of money to the crusaders.
In conclusion, Japan is exposed to the difficult situation in between two intentions from the opposite camps: one is trying to demonstrate the hostility to Japan in that they have the deep-rooted scorn for Japanese money-first policies in favour of the Western “crusaders” in the Middle East; another is trying to draw Japan into the so-called war on terror, making Japanese attitude possibly appear to be Arab-unfriendly. Now that Japan is now facing the greatest difficulty regarding the Middle East, its people cannot neglect the situation there—terrorists have been already looking at Japanese people.