Israel apologizes to Croatia over nixed sale of F-16 fighter jets

Israel was forced to withdraw from its sale of the fighter planes to Croatia due to U.S. objection.

By David Jablinowitz, World Israel News

Even as Israel and the U.S. have touted the many agreements between the two governments since Donald Trump became the American president, one disagreement has now forced Israel to pull out of a military arms deal with Croatia.

The director general of Israel’s Defense Ministry, Udi Adam, has apologized to Zagreb for Jerusalem’s withdrawal from the $500 million deal to sell aging Israeli F-16 Barak fighter jets to the Croatian military.

“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 know-how and technology,” Adam was quoted as saying during meetings on Thursday in the Croatian capital.

After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in December with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brazil, on the sidelines of the inauguration of the Brazilian president, a senior Israeli source who briefed reporters expressed enthusiasm over the results of the talks.

He said that in the meeting with Pompeo, “Israel had eight requests, and seven were granted.”  The source then added that “the only issue that is still under discussion is the sale of aircraft to Croatia.”

Ultimately, U.S. officials objected to the sale, apparently on the grounds that Israel’s upgrades made the planes more attractive to buyers than the American versions. Washington insisted that Israel could make the sale only if it removed the upgrades that it had made to the U.S.-manufactured jets. Israel acquired these planes a few decades ago but added sophisticated electronic and radar systems.

The upgrades were said to have been a crucial factor in Zagreb’s decision to purchase the fighter jets from Israel instead of the U.S.

Israel reached a tentative deal to sell the upgraded F-16 Barak fighters to Croatia in March. Last week, after months of delay, the Croatian defense ministry gave Israel a deadline of January 11 to clear the deal with the State Department.

Croatian Defense Minister Damir Krsticevic said that Israel had provided guarantees during the contract bidding process that U.S. officials would give the go-ahead.

However, in a statement issued on Thursday, the Croatian Defense Ministry said 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.” Minister Krsticevic said that “despite accepted obligations,” Israel had failed to obtain the necessary American consent.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said: “We are not happy that this happened.”

After apologizing for the deal’s failure, the visiting director general of Israel’s Defense Ministry said that despite the setback, he “expects continued and fruitful cooperation with Croatia. We will do our utmost to deepen our ties across a broad spectrum of fields,” said the Israeli official.