The government is considering giving prime ministers a free hand in mobilizing the Self-Defense Forces to respond swiftly to “gray-zone” incidents, sources said Sunday.

Such power might be imbued through advance approval from the Cabinet, allowing the SDF to quickly respond to incidents that could threaten Japanese interests, such as small-scale attacks on commercial shipping vessels or illegally landings on remote Japanese islands.

But making mobilization easier, observers say, could raise the possibility of armed clashes erupting because rapid SDF involvement could give a foreign country a pretext for launching an attack on Japan.