More and more it’s becoming commonplace to read about Israel conducting business in regions one wouldn’t normally expect, including Russia, Africa, and Honduras, which will soon use Israeli technology to fight homegrown crime. Over the Labor Day weekend here in the U.S., Reuters published an interesting report about increasing bilateral trade between the two countries, as well as Japan’s growing interest and investment in Israeli companies.
Over the past two years, Japan and Israel have strengthened business ties, signing a series of economic agreements on the back of a visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Israel in 2015 and Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Tokyo in 2014.
“Abe had a good impression; he liked Netanyahu’s mentality,” Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, told Reuters when he led a delegation from Keizai Doyukai, the Japanese business lobby, to Israel in May.
For years, trade between the two was minimal – Japan was reluctant to upset its oil suppliers, many of whom belong to the Arab League, which has long backed a boycott of Israel.
“Geopolitics is changing in the Middle East and as oil prices come down, strategically it’s not as important,” said Kobayashi. “Japan is changing its mind.”
The Reuters article goes on to name a number of deals and projects involving Israel and Japan, including Rakuten’s $900 million purchase of Viber, a wildly popular chat app.
“Building a relationship with Israel gives Tokyo more leverage in the Middle East” writes Harry Zieve Cohen of The American Interest, “and helps Japan balance its reliance on Middle Eastern oil.”
Japan’s efforts here indicate something else: Countries are learning they can work with Israel without alienating the Arabs. That may be because, as Reuters says, low oil prices are giving the Arab League less influence. But it might also be because some Arab leaders are themselves starting to work with Israel. Either way, Israel seems to be benefiting from the changing geopolitical landscape.