Israel called off a $500 million sale of 12 F-16s jets to Croatia after months of delay, citing “unforeseen problems, according to an announcement by Israel’s Defense Ministry on January 10th.
Croatia was preparing to buy the used F-16 Barak fighter jets from Israel to replace its aging fleet of Soviet-designed MiG-21s, which were originally commissioned in 1959.
“The Ministry of Defense attaches great importance to the deepening of cooperation between Israel and Croatia, and initiated the project of the F-16, which includes Israeli know-how and technology, which was conducted professionally in the framework of the GTG deal between the two countries,” said director-general of the Defense Ministry Udi Adam while on a visit to Zagreb.
“Croatia has acted professionally and judiciously all along the way. Unfortunately, we have not been able to realize the deal because of problems that could not have been expected and are not under the control of the countries,” he added.
“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,” the Croatian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
According to reports, Washington played a big part in calling off the deal. The fighter jets were originally bought from the US and have been upgraded with Israeli technology.
Washington reportedly insisted that they be returned to the form in which they were sold to Israel – without the advanced electronic systems – before being sold to Croatia.
“The sophisticated electronic and radar systems had been a crucial factor in Croatia’s decision to buy the planes from Israel, rather than straight from the US, which was reportedly furious that Jerusalem would unfairly profit from the deal,” the Jerusalem Post reported.
The deal was initially signed in March 2018, and Croatia reportedly gave a deadline until January 11th, 2019 to clear out any issues with Washington on Israel’s side and finalize it.
Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reportedly eager to fulfill the deal and even raised the question with in his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brazil. He was allegedly unable to Pompeo’s mind on the matter.
In early December, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) cited the US Embassy in Zagreb as saying that the US had been actively working with Israel and Croatia on the details over the past year.
“We have been working with Israel for over a year on the details of the proposed F-16 transfer. Over the course of our discussions, we have been consistent and clear about the technical conditions under which we could approve the transfer,” the embassy was quoted by BIRN as saying, adding that “the United States remains firmly committed to supporting Croatia’s desire to modernize and upgrade its air force by purchasing aircraft that are interoperable with its NATO allies.”
The Croatian Defense Ministry said it had finally opted to buy 12 F-16 jets from Israel in March, mainly due to the upgrades they had. The first jets are expected to be delivered by the end of 2020 but the contract for their delivery has not been signed yet.
“Croatia insists that what was listed in Israel’s bid regarding the F-16 C/D Block 30 Barak fighter jets be respected and the sale of any other version of the jet is impossible,” the Defense Ministry said.