Croatia formally nixes F-16 purchase from Israel after US objection

Israel apologizes after deal to provide 12 fighter jets for $500m vetoed by Washington, which reportedly demanded Israeli upgrades be rolled back

Illustrative: An Israeli F-16 fighter jet fires a 'Rampage' air-to-ground rocket in an undated photograph. (Israeli Military Industries Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries)
Illustrative: An Israeli F-16 fighter jet fires a 'Rampage' air-to-ground rocket in an undated photograph. (Israeli Military Industries Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries)

ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia’s government has formally canceled a $500 million deal to buy 12 used fighter jets from Israel after it collapsed over US objections.

State TV said the government made the decision at Monday’s cabinet session.

Israel and Croatia reached a tentative deal in March for the sale of the upgraded F-16 Barak fighter planes, pending US approval to allow the American-made technology to be purchased by a third party.

The deal ran into trouble after Washington said Israel needed to strip off upgrades that were added after Israel took delivery of the aircraft from the United States some 30 years ago.

The sophisticated electronics and radar systems were crucial in Croatia’s decision to buy the F-16s from Israel instead of from the US or Greece, which also bid for the contract.

Last Thursday, the director-general of Israel’s Defense Ministry, Udi Adam, on a visit to the Croatian capital, apologized to Croatia for the collapse of the deal.

Defense Ministry chief Udi Adam at a ceremony in Jerusalem on October 25, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The Defense Ministry places great importance on deepening the cooperation between Israel and Croatia. To that end, we initiated the F-16 [sale], which included Israeli knowhow and technology,” Adam was quoted as saying during meetings Thursday in Zagreb.

Adam called both countries’ conduct “professional and considered,” and said the “conditions, unfortunately, did not allow us to realize the deal because of unforeseeable problems that were beyond the control of either government.”

The deal was to be the Balkan nation’s biggest arms purchase since splitting from the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

But Washington objected to the sale, apparently on the grounds that Israel’s upgrades made the planes more attractive to buyers than their American counterparts. It said Israel needed to strip off the upgrades made to the US-made jets, including electronic and radar systems.

Two weeks ago, after months of delay, the Croatian defense ministry gave Israel a deadline of January 11 to clear the deal with the US State Department. Croatian Defense Minister Damir Krsticevic said that Israel had provided guarantees during the contract bidding process that US officials would green-light the sale.

Israeli Air Force F-16I on the tarmac during the Blue Flag air exercise at the Ovda air force base, north of the Israeli city of Eilat, on November 8, 2017. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“We are not happy that this happened,” Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on January 9. “The government firmly stands by its decision… to realize only the offer as accepted” in March, he said.

After apologizing for the deal’s failure, Adam said Thursday that Israel’s Defense Ministry “expects continued and fruitful cooperation with Croatia. We will do our utmost to deepen our ties across a broad spectrum of fields.”

Relations between the Trump administration and Israel have been very close, particularly on defense issues. But the sale of the jets to Croatia appears to be one of the rare disagreements between the two countries. They were not overcome even after a meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks ago in Brazil.

A senior Israeli official told Channel 10 that Israel “received almost everything it wanted” during the meeting with Pompeo — except approval to sell the upgraded planes.

Last month, the TV news station reported that the Trump administration was angry with Israel for including the advanced electronic systems in an effort to secure the Croatian tender.

Israeli officials told the network that the US believed Israel would unfairly profit from the sale of the American-made fighter jets.

Most Popular
read more: