PM Abe, in a press conference held in Jerusalem on Tuesday night (J), said that Japan would not be intimidated by threats to its citizens, with PM Abe himself making a demand that the hostages be released immediately and expressing his ‘strong resentment’ at IS’s use of the lives of Japanese citizens as a shield for its threats.
As was reported on Wednesday morning, IS’s execution of hostages on video is not in itself unusual, given that this is one of its preferred methods of disseminating propaganda, yet the fact that two Japanese citizens had been chosen as victims, and that both a set time limit and ransom amount had been explicitly demanded by IS, pointed to a new development.
Japan has no military involvement in the conflict against IS, but it is allied to the United States and maintains close ties with other nations that are directly involved in the fight against IS. By threatening to execute two Japanese citizens, IS is apparently sending a message that any country that aids and abets forces ranged against them will suffer the consequences. Japan has not completely ruled out negotiating with IS, but there would be a strong incentive for it not to do so.
Other nations within the Middle East, such as Egypt, Iran, the UAE, Jordan, and Israel, have all been engaged in fighting against Islamic extremism, and any move that would placate extremists through the payment of ransom money would be an unwelcome move by Japan. It would give an incentive for IS to conduct more kidnappings, possible even in surrounding countries, in order to provide an additional form of revenue raising for its activities. Of course, IS might then be forced to release the hostages, for taking hostages merely for the purposes of killing them is a self-defeating strategy (if money is one of the motives for this latest action).
Yet one suspects that IS have no intention of releasing the hostages, and have merely made the video as another means of inciting fear and demands within Japan for a halt to any further assistance for the campaign against IS. In that sense, it will not work. If the past few years have taught us anything, Japan does not give in to any attempt to threaten its interests. If anything, it just hardens its resolve even further. Rather than dissuading Japan from providing assistance, this incident will trigger a greater demand for action against IS in conjunction with other nations.
Japan might not have military assets, but it does have an extensive diplomatic presence in the Middle East and strong relations with many countries in that region (Turkey, Iran, Israel, Jordan, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt). Its technological prowess could also be brought to bear against IS, although such an act would pre-empt the collective self-defence debate that has continued on from last year.
PM Abe has already stated that Israel and the US have offered to share information about the possible whereabouts of the hostages, and it is reasonable to expect that other nations would now be making similar offers of information concerning IS’s motives. The execution of the hostages would be a tragic outcome, but it would not fundamentally change the Abe government’s strategy of support for the campaign against IS and of US involvement in the Middle East region.