Israel confirms F-16 sale to Croatia nixed over Washington’s objections
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Israel confirms F-16 sale to Croatia nixed over Washington’s objections

Defense Ministry chief apologizes after deal to provide 12 fighter jets for $500m vetoed by Americans, who reportedly demanded Israeli upgrades be rolled back

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)

The director-general of the Defense Ministry, Udi Adam, apologized to Croatia on Thursday for the collapse of a $500 million deal to sell aging Israeli F-16 Barak fighter jets, after Washington nixed the deal.

“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, the Croatian capital.

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.”

Israel made a tentative deal to sell the upgraded F-16 Barak fighters to Croatia last March, pending US approval for allowing the jets to go to a third party.

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 after Israel acquired the planes some 30 years ago, including sophisticated electronic and radar systems.

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

Those upgrades, however, were a crucial factor in Croatia’s decision to buy the planes from Israel, rather than from the US.

Last week, 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 provided guarantees during the contract bidding process that US officials would green-light the sale.

If Croatia is not able to buy the upgraded jets in the original deal, the government will cancel the order, the ministry said.

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

The Croatian Defense Ministry said in a statement Thursday that “Israel failed to overcome the opposition of the United States to the sale of 12 planes to Croatia, and the $500 million deal will apparently be canceled.”

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.”

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 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 last week 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.

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