Croatia gives Israel deadline for F-16 sale amid rare US dispute
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Croatia gives Israel deadline for F-16 sale amid rare US dispute

Zagreb threatening to nix $500 million arms deal unless Washington allows Israel to include sophisticated upgrades made to American fighter jets

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)
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)

Croatia on Thursday urged Israel to overcome a rare disagreement with the US and confirm whether it can carry through on a deal to sell 12 used F-16 fighter jets, adding that otherwise the purchase will be annulled.

Croatia’s Defense Ministry said it needs an answer from Israel by January 11.

The tentative $500 million deal to buy the upgraded F-16 Barak fighter jets from Israel was made in March last year, pending US approval allowing Israel to sell the American-made jets to a third party. The deal ran into trouble after the US State Department hinted that Israel needs to strip off the upgrades that were added after Israel bought the planes from the US some 30 years ago.

Israel has upgraded the jets with sophisticated electronic and radar systems, which was crucial in Croatia’s decision to buy the planes from Israel rather than from the US.

“If the planes are not in accordance with what we have agreed, the deal will not be carried out and we will have another purchase bid,” Croatia’s parliament speaker Gordan Jandrokovic said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brasilia on January 1, 2019. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Relations between the Trump administration and Israel have been very close, particularly on defense issues. But the sale of the jets to Croatia appear 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 on Tuesday in Brazil, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.

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 the US believes Israel would unfairly profit from the sale, as the American-made fighter jets are not supposed to be re-sold to a third-party without State Department approval.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 24, 2018. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

“We are expecting final and clear stands from both Israel and the United States on this issue and then we will make a final decision,” Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said.

The deal is Croatia’s largest single military purchase since it split from the Yugoslav federation in the 1991-95 war.

NATO member Croatia faces a mini arms race with Russian ally Serbia, which recently received six used Russian MiG-29 fighter jets.

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