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Israel pulls back fighter jets from Alaska joint exercise

An Israeli Air Force F-15 fighter jet releases flares during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for Israeli air force pilots at the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel, December 29, 2016. (Amir Cohen / Reuters file)

The Israeli Air Force has decided not to send F-15 fighter jets to a 16-day training in Alaska that begins next week, amid escalating tensions involving Syria and Iran.

Israeli troops will join American Navy and Air Force aviators during a joint exercise known as "Red Flag-Alaska," which will run April 26 to May 11 out of Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

The Red Flag exercises take place several times a year and bring together U.S. and international forces for "realistic" training and simulated combat. Next week's exercises will be the first of 2018.

Air Force public affairs officer Kitsana Dounglomchan confirmed that "the Israeli Air Force will not be sending F-15s to Red Flag-Alaska," but said "they will still be participating in the exercise."

The change of plans was first reported by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which cited "rising tensions in the north of Israel."

"The air force may send some representatives, but no planes will participate," the story said.

"Despite this change, we are looking forward to hosting the Israeli contingent that will be partaking in Red Flag-Alaska 18-1," Dounglomchan said.

Left-leaning think tank Brookings Institute said in a blog post this week that "the countdown to the next round of military conflict between Israel and Iran has begun" following the recent attack on Syrian chemical weapons facilities by the U.S., France and England. Israel reportedly targeted and destroyed an Iranian drone project in Syria.

Units and aircraft scheduled to participate in the exercise will come from Alaska; Kadena Air Base in Japan; Osan Air Base in South Korea; the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington state; Andersen Air Force Base in Guam; and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, Dounglomchan said.

The Alaska-based exercise offers the chance to fly in combat scenarios that involve snow and ice. The intent of the exercise is to give pilots the chance to fly in "a simulated hostile, non-cooperative training environment" covering 67,000 miles, according to the Air Force. "Analysis indicates most combat losses occur during an aircrew's first eight to 10 missions. Therefore, the goal of RED FLAG-Alaska is to provide each aircrew with these first vital missions, increasing their chances of survival in combat environments," according to the Air Force.

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