The Israeli military has decided to cancel the participation of its F-15 fighter jets in next May’s Red Flag exercise in the U.S., Flight Global reports. However, Jerusalem won’t completely scrap its involvement in the exercise, instead opting to reshuffle the assets, while retaining the front-line squadrons at home.
According to Stratfor, the aircraft supposed to go to Alaska probably were F-15I Ra’am jets from the 69th Squadron. These airplanes are a development of the Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle with Israeli avionics, optimized for ground attack operations.
On April 9, an Israeli air strike against Tiyas airbase in Syria killed a commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, among at least six others. Tehran has threatened to retaliate in a still undisclosed fashion.
Moreover, the U.S.-led attack against Syrian targets in the wake of the suspected chemical attack on Douma has raised tensions even further. Within this scenario, the Israeli military has been preparing for either further preemptive strikes or defense against possible hostile actions.
It is worth noting that Israel has also been raising the alert status and even calling up reservists.
Back on February 9, an Iranian UAV allegedly entered Israeli airspace, being promptly shot down by an AH-64 Apache helicopter. Jerusalem responded with air strikes against targets in Syria, having lost one F-16I to the Syrian anti-aircraft defenses.
The entrenchment of Iran in Syria has been a concern for Israel for the duration of the civil war in that country. Given Tehran’s ambitions of having ports in the Mediterranean and its cold war against Riyadh, it stands to reason that the country was bound to support its ally al-Assad and expand its presence in the Levant.
However, the options to strike Israel may be more limited than what it may seem at first. Hezbollah is a major Iranian ally and has engaged Israel several times in the past. Nevertheless, with an election coming on May 5, the group may not be interested in spurring greater instability.
Hamas is another organization that has important ties to the Iranians. The clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli military has caused casualties and great international controversy during the past weeks. Again, though, it is improbable that Hamas would be interested in increasing the pressure further at this point.
Iranian forces and its proxies near the Golan Heights could also offer an option to strike at Israel. A further option seldom presented is that of a concerted attack by all of these elements, or most of them.
The truth, though, is that all sides are quite nervous about further developments in the Syrian battlespace. This month alone Israeli may have launched at least three airstrikes against targets in Syria, including anti-aircraft artillery sites, the Drive reports.
The F-15s are an important element of Israel’s strike capability. Originally developed as air superiority fighters for the U.S. Air Force, the F-15s boast long range and a heavy payload. The F-15E and its variants, like the F-15I, are specially optimized for ground attack and are among the most potent weapons systems of its kind in the world.
The Red Flag Alaska is a massive aerial combat training exercise hosted once per year in the U.S. Air Force bases of Eielson and Elmendorf, Alaska. It lasts 10 days and includes the participation of elements from the U.S. military as well as several allied nations.
This sort of combined training is very important due to the current need of modern militaries to operate as part of international coalitions. This means that training and equipment must have some sort of commonality, so crews know what they’re doing when operating in such an environment.
Despite the withdrawal of the F-15s, Israel will be sending other squadrons to this year’s exercise, including Boeing 707 tankers.
Israel also holds its own exercise of this kind, dubbed the Blue Flag, also on an annual basis.