Iran’s retaliatory missile attacks against Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops have sparked security fears among Japanese firms operating in the Middle East, with some choosing to evacuate staff from offices in the region.
Japan’s three biggest commercial banks — MUFG Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. (SMBC) and Mizuho Bank — each said they had moved Japanese employees stationed at their representative offices in Tehran to locations outside the country. The lenders’ Tehran offices are also manned by local staff members.
An SMBC spokesman said the employee relocation was “a temporary measure,” and that the employee was continuing information-gathering operations at a new location.
Mizuho Bank has banned its staff from traveling to Iran and Iraq, and MUFG Bank has also restricted trips to the countries.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have escalated over reciprocal strikes and toughened rhetoric.
The U.S. last Friday killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in a surprise drone attack in Bagdad. Washington has said the strike was aimed at heading off an imminent attack on Americans.
On Wednesday, Iran fired at least a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases where U.S. troops were stationed in retaliation for the killing of Soleimani, who is hailed by some as a hero.
U.S. President Donald Trump addressed the nation later that day, saying there had been no known casualties in the attacks and that “only minimal damage was sustained” at the Iraqi bases.
As of Oct. 1, 2018, Japanese companies have 30 operational bases in Iran, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Many are financial institutions, trading houses or engaged in energy systems engineering, according to the Japan External Trade Organization.
Trading house Mitsubishi Corp. said it had asked employees stationed at its operational bases in Iran and Iraq to remain on alert but has not gone as far as to evacuate them. Another firm in the sector, Toyota Tsusho Corp., has moved three employees it had dispatched from Japan out of its Tehran office. The company has, in principle, banned business trips to Iran and has urged employees not to make trips to other parts of the Middle East unless they are urgent, a spokeswoman said.
According to a Kyodo News report, Mitsui Chemicals Inc. CEO Tsutomu Tannowa expressed concern during a meeting held Tuesday by an industry group.
“At the start of the year, there have been obvious geopolitical risks in the Middle East,” Tannowa said. “It is difficult to predict what this year is going to be like.”