After months of delay, the $500 million deal between Israel and Croatia to buy upgraded F-16 fighter jets was nixed due to “unforeseen problems,” Israel’s Defense Ministry announced on Thursday.
IMOD Director-General, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Udi Adam apologized to Croatia for the collapse of 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 know-how and technology, which was conducted professionally in the framework of the G2G deal between the two countries,” Adam was quoted as saying during a visit to Zagreb.
“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 made a tentative deal to sell 12 upgraded F-16 Barak fighters to Croatia last March, pending US approval for allowing the jets to go to a third party.
Croatia, a NATO member, was preparing to buy the aircraft from Israel in order to replace its aging fleet of Soviet-designed MiG-21s.
The F-16 fighters, which were originally bought from the United States, have been upgraded with Israeli technology, including sophisticated electronic and radar systems.
Washington reportedly objected to the deal, insisting that the jets be returned to the form in which they were sold to Israel, namely without the upgrades, before being sold to Croatia. Those upgrades, however, were a crucial factor in Croatia’s decision to buy the aircraft from Israel, rather than straight 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.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was eager to push through the deal, raised the issue when he met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brazil. However, the prime minister was apparently unable to change the secretary’s mind.
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.”