Mideast envoys panicked after '72 apology to Israel



(Note: Kozo Okamoto, listed below, was released by the Israel after many years of incarceration. A noble move, in the USA, he would have been executed. Food for thought about the death penalty.)

Japanese diplomats were thrown into confusion after Tokyo apologized to Israel over the Japanese Red Army's attack on Lod Airport in Tel Aviv in 1972 that left 24 dead, declassified documents show.

Three members of the radical group carried out the attack, the first in a series of assaults in foreign locations.

The lone Red Army survivor, Kozo Okamoto, 61, is still on the international most wanted list.

The documents released by the Foreign Ministry on Monday show that on the day after the shooting on May 30, 1972, the Japanese consul general in San Francisco sent a telegram marked "extremely urgent." It said in part, "There is a need for Japan to immediately express its sincerity and prevent any negative reaction from arising."

On June 1, the consul general in Honolulu sent a telegram voicing concerns about the potentially serious damage to Japan's image.

The Japanese government expressed regret over the incident and sent Kenji Fukunaga, a Lower House member, to Israel as a special envoy. Fukunaga was an old friend of then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.

In his meeting with Meir on June 4, Fukunaga said Japan was prepared to give Israel $1.5 million (about 460 million yen at exchange rates of the time) as condolence money for the victims.

The reaction from Israel was positive. But the same could not be said for the Middle East nations that considered Israel its mortal enemy.

The Japanese ambassador in Syria sent a telegram on June 8 that passed along the position of the Syrian government. The document said: "It is dangerous for Japan to act based on its own circumstances. The weak point for Israel arising from its inhumane actions (of invading Arab nations) will be erased by the Japanese apology."

On June 10, the Japanese ambassador to Egypt sent a telegram that summarized the opinions of the top echelon of the Egyptian government.

"Is there a need for the Japanese government to make such an apology for the actions of three Japanese?" the ambassador asked. "The government is not responsible at all. The topic of economic sanctions against Japan is on the verge of being raised."

In the document, the ambassador requested that urgent consideration be given to either the prime minister or foreign minister issuing a statement to the Arab world.

The ambassador met with high-ranking Egyptian government officials on June 11. In the report sent to Tokyo, the ambassador wrote, "I explained that the measures by Japan were purely from a humanitarian standpoint and strongly requested that no measures be taken based on misunderstanding."

Satoshi Ikeuchi, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo specializing in Islamic political philosophy, said the documents showed the delicate situation Japan faced at that time.

"The Japanese government made a maximum effort to avoid worsening its image at a time when it was trying to enter the club of advanced economies," Ikeuchi said. "At the same time, the Arab nations welcomed the terrorist act by the Japanese Red Army because it represented support by a foreign nation for its cause without having to act on their own.

"The apology by the Japanese government must have been seen as a rejection of that cause."(IHT/Asahi: December 24,2008)