ASDF Aircraft with 60 Japanese, 23 Others from Israel Arrives at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An Air Self-Defense Force aircraft carrying 83 passengers from Israel arrives at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Saturday.

Sixty Japanese nationals were among 83 passengers on an Air Self-Defense Force aircraft who were evacuated from the turmoil in the Middle East, departing Israel on early Friday morning and arriving at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport shortly after 3 a.m. Saturday.

The Japanese nationals were joined by 18 South Koreans and five accompanying family members on the Air Self-Defense Force’s KC-767 aerial refueling and transport aircraft, according to the Defense Ministry.

After clearing immigration at Haneda, the passengers looked tired after the long flight via Jordan, but expressed relief for having made it to Japan without incident.

“I could hear the sound of explosions almost every day, and it felt like the house was shaking,” said a Japanese woman, 47, who was evacuated from a town in northern Israel with her four children aged 10 to 17.

Her Israeli husband decided to remain, saying he wanted to defend his country, which came under attack from Hamas from the Palestinian enclave of Gaza. The woman said she felt hesitant about leaving Israel, but decided to return to Japan to ensure the safety of her children.

Preemptive action

Even with direct flights still operating between Japan and Israel, the government decided to consider the worst-case scenario and take preemptive action by arranging for the evacuation.

Currently, there are direct commercial flights twice a week between the two countries, but with the overall number decreasing, the government on Oct. 13 decided to arrange for a charter flight and to dispatch ASDF aircraft to Djibouti.

The decision was based on lessons learned after the government drew criticism for its slow decision-making process regarding the deployment of SDF aircraft to Afghanistan in 2021.

This time, the government attached particular importance on working in conjunction with South Korea. Seoul dispatched a military transport plane earlier than Japan following the cancelation of Korean Air’s direct flights from Oct. 9. The plane arrived in South Korea on Oct. 14 with 51 Japanese nationals on board.

According to a government source, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, expressing gratitude to South Korea for transporting Japanese nationals, on Wednesday ordered that South Koreans be included on the SDF aircraft.

The government also made inquiries to the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Australia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand to see if any of their nationals wanted to evacuate aboard the SDF plane. But only South Korea took up the offer, according to sources.

As of Friday, about 800 Japanese remain in either Israel or the Palestinian territories. The government has the two C-2 transport aircraft on standby, one in Djibouti and the other currently in Jordan, in case the situation worsens further.

“We will keep the aircraft on standby and do our utmost to ensure the safety of Japanese residents in the region,” Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said at a press conference Friday.