A Japanese destroyer left its base in Kanagawa Prefecture for the Middle East on Sunday to join the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s first long-term intelligence-gathering mission abroad. According to the media report, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was present at the departure ceremony and addressed the public on the high importance of this navy mission. “…The task of gathering information is of enormous significance directly linked to the lives of the people […] About 90 percent of the oil consumed in Japan passes through the sea area where the destroyers are operating, such as the Gulf of Oman. It is an area that can be said to be the aorta and lifeline that supports the lives of Japanese people”, Abe said. Notably, Takanami destroyer, with 200 SDF personnel aboard, is slated to reach its destination later this month. The crew will reportedly operate with two P-3C maritime patrol aircraft to guard ships heading for Japanese ports. Authorities in Tokyo have reportedly declared their preparedness to use force in protecting the passage of Japanese cargo ships in the Middle East – a decision that violates the nation’s constitution. Japan plans to rotate MSDF destroyers in three four-month tours over the course of the one-year Middle East mission, which could be extended with Cabinet approval. The government’s decision to deploy the MSDF assets, with a total of around 260 personnel, in the Middle East has been met with criticism by opposition parties amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran. Japan has not joined the U.S.-led Operation Sentinel maritime security initiative near the Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway for the transportation of oil, for fear of harming Tokyo’s long-standing friendly ties with Tehran.