Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Japan's defense minister ordered the deployment of a naval destroyer and two P-3C patrol planes to the Middle East, along with 260 troops of Tokyo's maritime self-defense force.
Taro Kono ordered the deployment on Friday after making a final decision on Dec. 27, Kyodo News reported.
Japanese destroyer Takanami is assigned to cover the high seas in the Gulf of Oman, the northern area of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden, according to Jiji Press.
The anti-piracy mission is not covering the Strait of Hormuz or the Persian Gulf, a move that could bring criticism from Iran amid tensions between Tehran and Washington.
Japan's political opposition has criticized the deployment. The mission has been described as an "investigation and research" expedition, but in the event of an emergency when Japanese troops are attacked, Japan can change the scope of the mission to include a "maritime security mode," allowing the forces to use weapons, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.
Japanese military involvement in armed conflict is a deeply controversial issue in Japan. Article 9 of the Japanese constitution outlaws war as a means of settling international disputes.
Rallies against reinterpreting the constitution have been ongoing in Japan outside parliament in Tokyo, but Japan's defense ministry has said deployment to the Middle East is necessary given the importance of oil shipping routes to the economy.
As the United States and Iran monitor each other amid military tensions, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is to make a five-day trip to the Middle East, according to multiple press reports.
Abe has previously attempted to mediate relations between Washington and Tehran.
On Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Abe will "exchange views with [the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman], which play important roles in easing tensions and stabilizing the situation in the region."