Three Air Self-Defense Force airplanes left Japan for Djibouti in East Africa on Saturday to prepare for the possible airlifting of Japanese nationals from Israel, where tensions are rising following Palestinian militant group Hamas’s massive attack a week ago.
The ASDF’s KC767 refueling and transport airplane departed from Komaki Air Base in central Japan and two C2 transport planes left Miho Air Base in the western prefecture of Tottori to stand by at an SDF base in Djibouti.
A number of countries have launched operations to evacuate their citizens from Israel, with the violence already claiming thousands of Israeli and Palestinian lives since Hamas conducted its surprise assault Oct 7.
The government plans to deploy the SDF plane if it becomes difficult to evacuate Japanese citizens by a chartered commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Dubai.
Tokyo announced the evacuation operation Friday, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida telling reporters that his government would “take all possible measures to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals.”
Defense Minister Minoru Kihara has indicated that the government might also try to evacuate Japanese citizens by land.
Separately, the South Korean government said Saturday it airlifted 163 South Koreans along with 51 Japanese and six Singaporean citizens from Israel using a military transport aircraft.
In 2011, the SDF set up a base in Djibouti, a tiny country in the Horn of Africa about 2,000 kilometers south of Israel, as part of an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia.
Japan used the same SDF foothold in Djibouti when it carried out an evacuation operation for nationals in nearby Sudan in April, where fighting between the Sudanese military and a paramilitary force had escalated.