Israel pulls warplanes from Red Flag training exercises due to rising regional tensions

An Israeli Air Force F-15C Baz takes off from Ovda Air Base, Israel.
(Flickr photo courtesy of Mark Rourke)

Dozens of U.S. and allied warplanes are assembling at Eielson Air Force Base in preparation for an upcoming round of Red Flag training exercises. But F-15s from the state of Israel will not be participating, reportedly because of rising tensions in the region.

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An Eielson Air Force Base spokesman says Israel will for the first time be participating in a Red Flag training exercise. But Lieutenant Kitsana Dounglomchan confirms that Israeli F-15s that were scheduled to take part in the exercise that gets under way later this month won’t after all.

“The Israeli Air Force will not be sending F-15s to Red Flag-Alaska 18-1, which occur from 26 April to 11 May,” Dounglomchan said in an interview Wednesday. He says he can’t say anything about why Israel decided against dispatching the warplanes to Red Flag, nor how many of the fighters the nation had intended to send.

Israeli media, which first reported the story, say national leaders decided to keep the F-15s home due to rising tensions in the region in the aftermath of Israeli military strikes against Iranian proxies in Syria. According to the media accounts, the Israel Defense Forces have placed its ground and air elements on high alert in case Iran launches a counterattack.

The accounts vary in their estimates on how many of the warplanes Israel had intended to send, ranging from a handful to more than a dozen.

Dounglomchan says the Israeli military will, however, take part in Red Flag.

“Despite this change, we’re still looking forward to hosting the Israeli contingent that will be participating in Red Flag-Alaska 18-1,” Dounglomchan said.

Dounglomchan says he can’t offer any details on how the Israeli Air Force will be participating. Media outlets say Israel will send personnel and other aircraft to Red Flag, including a KC-135 tanker variant, similar to those used by the Alaska Air National Guard’s 168th Air Refueling Wing that’s based at Eielson.

More than 60 aircraft from U.S. and allied units will take part in the upcoming Red Flag exercise, according to the Pacific Air Forces, the Alaskan Command’s higher headquarters that directs Red Flag. The aircraft will be based at both Eielson and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, and most operations will take place in a simulated combat environment in the skies above the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex.