US objections stop Croatia buying Israeli fighter jets: minister

Croatia’s plans to buy used F-16 fighter jets from Israel failed over a lack of US approval for the sale, a disappointed defence minister said Thursday after talks with an Israeli delegation.

Croatia had in March agreed to buy 12 used F-16s from Israel to replace its Russian-made MiG-21s.

But Washington objected to the sale of the US-made jets because it wants the removal of electronic system upgrades that Israel added, in a rare defence dispute between the close allies, according to Croatian officials.

Israel has officially informed the defence ministry that … it unfortunately cannot get an adequate approval of the US to deliver F-16 planes,” Croatian Defence Minister Damir Krsticevic told reporters.

The agreement between Israel and Croatia is not signed and Zagreb will suffer no financial damages, he added.

The deal, worth $500 million (435 million euros), would have been the Balkan nation’s biggest arms purchase since splitting from former Yugoslavia in the 1990s war.

Senior Israeli defence ministry official Udi Adam, who led his country’s delegation, said that “unfortunately … we could not … implement the project due to circumstances beyond our control.”

“Croatia could not influence this outcome and cannot be responsible,” he said in a defence ministry statement.

After months of delay, Zagreb had asked Israel for official information by Friday on whether it can deliver the planes.

Apart from Israel, several other countries also put in bids for the tender, including Greece, South Korea, Sweden and the United States.

Krsticevic said that Croatia still had the “political will to maintain capability of its airforce.”

“I’m convinced that this government will find a way to realise that.”

Local media speculate that Croatia could now either open talks with Sweden, whose offer was the second best, on its Gripen fighters, cancel the tender and launch a new one or try to reach a direct deal with the US.

Croatia joined NATO in 2009 and the European Union four years later.

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