The Israel Air Force has decided to scale back its participation in the Red Flag exercise amid increasing tensions on Israel’s northern border.
“In light of the situational assessment by the air force it was decided to adjust the planes’ participation in the exercise,” a statement by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said, adding that “Israel’s first participation in the Red Flag exercise in Alaska will take place as planned.”
According to a statement by air force public affairs officer Kitsana Dounglomchan, Israel’s air force decided not to send F-15 fighter jets to the two-week-long drill that will run between April 26 and May 11 out of the Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks and joint base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
“Despite this change, we are looking forward to hosting the Israeli contingent that will be partaking in Red Flag-Alaska 18-1,” Dounglomchan was quoted by local media as saying.
The Red Flag exercises take place several times a year bringing together US and international forces for drills on realistic simulated combat situations. A statement released by Pacific Air Forces, the Alaskan Command’s higher headquarters that directs the exercise, said that over 60 aircraft “from more than a dozen units” will be taking part in the drill.
Israel regularly participates in the US Air Force’s main Red Flag exercises at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, but the drill in Alaska is meant to offer pilots the opportunity to fly in combat scenarios that involve winter conditions in which Israeli pilots rarely get to train.
The “exercise [is] designed to provide realistic training in a simulated combat environment,” reads a statement by the US Pacific Air Force’s Public Affairs, adding that “Red Flag-Alaska exercises provide unique opportunities to integrate various forces in a realistic threat environment.”
Tensions on Israel’s northern border have been rising in recent months as Israel fears Iran is entrenching itself deeper into war-torn Syria with its presence on Israel’s borders growing in strength.
With long-range strike and reconnaissance capabilities Israel’s F-15s are the backbone of the Israel Air Force, carrying out operations over Syria and the Gaza Strip.
In mid-April the Russian military announced that Israel carried out an air strike against Syria’s T4 airbase with two F-15s with guided missiles fired from Lebanese airspace.
The air strike killed seven Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps soldiers, including Col. Mehdi Dehghan, who led the drone unit operating out of the base.
14 killed in alleged Israeli airstrike on Syrian airbase, April 10, 2018 (Reuters)
Following that strike, Israel placed its troops on alert, preparing for a direct attack from the IRGC itself – and not by proxies as had been done before – under the command of Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani in the form of precision-guided missiles or armed drones from a base in Syria.
Hossein Salami, the second-in-command of the IRGC, said on Friday that Israel should “not trust” its air bases, as they are “within range of our fire.”
“The finger is on the trigger and the missiles are ready at any given moment that the enemy conducts something against us, and we will launch them,” Salami said.