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Lessons From Israel, Timely for Japan

US Ambassador Rahm Emanuel explains why actions by China and North Korea make absorbing the April 13 lessons from Israel necessary for collective deterrence.



Objects seen over Jerusalem after Iran launched missiles and other projectiles against Israel on the April 14 (April 13 local time). (©Reuters/Kyodo News)

US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel shares his close observations of the defense measures taken by Israel on April 13. Beginning with lessons from its success, he details the direction he hopes US-Japan security relations will take in a special Op-Ed contributed to JAPAN Forward

Ambassador Emanuel's Op-Ed follows:

US Ambassador Rahm Emanuel at his residence in Tokyo. (© Sankei by Ikue Mio)

A Credible Collective Deterrence

With a belligerent China intimidating its neighbors and an unpredictable North Korea test-firing ballistic missiles into waters around Japan, absorbing the lessons of April 13 to enhance the credibility of our collective deterrence is imperative. 

The successful defense of Israel from an Iranian barrage of more than 300 missiles and attack drones in March was no stroke of luck. Years of planning and technological improvements paid off, with the saving of thousands of lives beyond what one country could realistically expect.

Commentators have appropriately focused on the potent effect of Iron Dome, David's Sling, and the other layers of Israel's sophisticated air-defense network. That alone, however, doesn't capture the full picture of the events of the night of April 13, whose many lessons can be applied to the US-Japan security arrangement. 

To realize an integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) architecture in the Indo-Pacific — as agreed by President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last month — we need to urgently accelerate the development of next-generation technology to deal with the missile and drone threats of tomorrow.

A Toolbox to Intercept Threats

The United States and Japan are committed to producing a Glide Phase Interceptor (GPI) to counter the threat of hypersonic missiles. And while we are exploring counter-drone technology, we should step up our development efforts. As we see every day in Ukraine and the Middle East, attack drones are becoming cheaper, deadlier, and more accurate. That's why the US and Israel are working together on the Iron Beam defense system, a high-energy laser that costs a fraction of conventional interceptors and flips the cost-benefit ratio on its head. 

Israel's multilayered defense "toolbox" equipped it to deal with the full range of projectiles launched by Iran and its cohort of regional aggressors last month. Each defense system layer is designed to counter a specific aerial threat, from drones and rockets to cruise and ballistic missiles. 


Training, too, is critical. Since 2001, the US and Israel have conducted biannual exercises to prepare for exactly the type of attack we saw last month. Joint planning and practice lead to enhanced interoperability and sharpened defense strategies.

President Yoon Suk-yeol, President Joe Biden, and PM Fumio Kishida at Camp David. (©ROK Presidential Office)

A Lattice Framework of Alliances and Partnerships

That deep cooperation extends to allies and regional partners. The US has been building strategic alliances in the region for years, illustrated by the creation of the Middle East Air Defense Alliance (MEAD) and, in 2021, the transfer of Israeli responsibility from European Command to US Central Command. 

What does all this mean for the US-Japan security alliance?

Plans for a Japanese joint command headquarters and a possible overhaul of America's own command structure in Japan would provide a similar foundation for an integrated air and missile defense network in the Indo-Pacific. Such changes would mean improved planning and real-time response. 

Philippine President Marcos, US President Biden, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House, Washington, DC, on April 11, 2024. (© Kyodo)

There have been numerous defense exercises between the US, Japan, and their regional allies this year — many of them historic firsts. But this trend needs to be expedited and expanded in scope. Not only do we require compatible systems to allow us to detect threats across the region and coordinate effective responses, but we also need to regularly train for every possible scenario.

Progress has been made in some areas. A strengthened US-Japan alliance is now at the core of a lattice framework of strategic partnerships in the Indo-Pacific. And we are seeing new levels of collaboration in the region, marked by the emergence of trilateral partnerships and reenergized Quad (Australia, India, Japan, and the US) and AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom, and United States) alliances. 

The Quad leaders meet on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Hiroshima, on May 20, 2023. (© REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool)

Getting to Credible Regional Deterrence

Credible regional deterrence at the level established by Israel requires not only robust air and missile defenses but also standoff strike capabilities. So Japan's decision to purchase 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the United States Fleet Forces Command, or USFF, was a game-changing one. 

With a belligerent China intimidating its neighbors and an unpredictable North Korea test-firing ballistic missiles into waters around Japan, absorbing the lessons of April 13 to enhance the credibility of our collective deterrence is imperative. 

While we have taken important steps to strengthen regional security, Israel's recent experience has shown us that we have much more work ahead.


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: HE Rahm Emanuel, United States Ambassador to Japan