Will Abe’s Mideast Mediation Effort Anger Iran’s Regional Rivals?

(Cairo) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will likely be walking a fine line between keeping the lid on tensions in the Gulf region and angering Iran’s regional adversaries as he embarks on his planned mediation between the Islamic Republic and the United States.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said June 6 that Japan would use its friendly relations with Washington and Tehran to defuse the unfolding crisis in the Gulf, one that has so far seen the US building up more military power in the region and Iran acting defiantly.

Abe, whose country will host the G-20 summit later this month, will travel to Tehran June 12, hoping to meet its president, Hassan Rouhani, and its supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.

In talks with Iranian officials, Abe will try to win support for direct dialogue with the US, probably on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.

Nevertheless, Iran’s regional rivals will be gritting their teeth in anger as the Japanese premier tries to prevent the showdown between Iran and the US from reaching the point of no return.

Hours after Kono unveiled Abe’s plan to travel to Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the Japanese premier and told him that “pressure on Iran must continue”.

According to a statement by his office June 7, Netanyahu, who talked with Abe for almost half an hour on the phone, including on economic cooperation and developments in the Middle East, added that this pressure was important to block the Islamic Republic’s “aggression ” in the region.

The need to contain Iran, trim its regional influence and prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon is a rare point of agreement between Tel Aviv and most other capitals in the region, especially in the Gulf.

Israel is alarmed at Iran’s growing influence in Syria, its support to the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and its backing of the Palestinian Hamas movement which rules the Gaza Strip.

There is similar fear in the Gulf, meanwhile, from Iran’s growing influence in the region, especially in Yemen where the Islamic Republic backs the Houthi militia which in 2014 overran most of Yemen.

The militia uses Iran-supplied weapons, missiles and drones in attacking neighboring Saudi Arabia and threatening the United Arab Emirates.

In mid-May, the militia attacked two oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia and four oil tankers off the port of Fujairah in the UAE.

The militia also attacked oil tankers and warships several times off the Red Sea coast of Yemen, highlighting the threats it can pose to navigation in the southern entrance of the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have not commented on Abe’s new peace overture toward Iran yet, but the Japanese prime minister is assured success, given the cues he has already received from both Washington and Tehran.

Last month, US President Donald Trump welcomed Abe’s effort to facilitate diplomacy with the Iranian regime

“I know that the prime minister and Japan have a very good relationship with Iran, so we’ll see what happens,” Trump said in Tokyo. “The prime minister has already spoken to me about that. And I do believe that Iran would like to talk. And if they’d like to talk, we’d like to talk also. We’ll see what happens.”

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi expressed hopes that Abe’s expected visit to his country would lead to a reduction of tensions in the region.

He told Japan’s NHK TV channel June 4 that Japan might be able to cause the US to understand the current situation.

But whether Abe’s mediation effort will anger Iran’s regional rivals and drive a wedge between his country and these rivals depends on the type of deal Trump can hammer out with Iran if he sits on the negotiating table with Rouhani.