At a ceremony held in the Defense Ministry on Sunday, January 20, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lauded and congratulated Japan’s Self-Defense Force (SDF) personnel who had a hand in the peacekeeping mission of the United Nations in the Israeli-held Golan Heights. “You, having honorably completed the mission in an environment different from Japan’s, represent our country and make us proud,” Abe told the soldiers directly during his address.
Golan Heights is a plateau that sees the tumultuous relationship between Syria and Israel. The SDF has been stationed there for the past 17 years since 1996, performing transportation and other operations as part of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force. This was the longest U.N. peacekeeping operation that involved Japanese troops. In late December, the SDF started to pull out its 47 soldiers, who were replaced every six months. This was decided after it was confirmed by Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto that the situation has taken a turn for the worse when Syrian forces clashed with rebel troops in July.
During Abe’s address to the soldiers, it was not surprising that he would remind his listeners of China’s repeated invasion of Japanese waters and airspace near the Senkaku Islands, which China is also claiming as part of its territory. Abe concluded by promising to strengthen the SDF and to resolutely protect the country’s citizens, land, territorial waters and airspace.