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Croatia Denies Reports of Blocked F-16 Deal, Says Israel’s $500M Sale a Go

© AP Photo / Str/HOAn Israeli Air Force F-16 jet fighter in flight over Israel 1980.
An Israeli Air Force F-16 jet fighter in flight over Israel 1980. - Sputnik International
Croatia’s purchase of half a billion dollars’ worth of F-16 fighter aircraft from Israel has sparked a bit of controversy, with Croatian officials saying the deal has the green light, while US officials say that’s not the case.

"The US government has given permission to the State of Israel to offer the Israeli F-16 to Croatia, and we have a document to that effect," Croatian Defense Minister Damir Krstičević said Friday, according to Total Croatia News.

Croatia solicited offers for fighter jets from South Korea, Greece, Sweden and the US as well. In March, the Croatian government announced its agreement with Israel to purchase a batch of F-16s for some $485 million.

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"In its bid, Israel undertook to deliver to Croatia aircraft that is compatible with NATO and obliged itself to ensure the extension of the planes' service life complies with the original manufacturer's criteria. Delivery, too, is the responsibility of the State of Israel. Based on those documents and the tender, we made the decision on the purchase of the multipurpose fighter fights, and the process was legal and transparent," the defense minister said.

One of the sticking points is that when US-based Lockheed Martin initially produced the aircraft and Israel acquired them, Washington and Israel had an agreement which said Washington would have to approve any relinquishment of the aircraft to a third party. "The Israelis need to accept the technical requirements, and as soon as that's done, we can move forward and the sale can go through," US Ambassador to Croatia Robert Kohorst said December 8.

The technical requirement question can only be reconciled once Israel strips advanced electronic systems from the aircraft, which were special weapons systems designed for Israel added on after the US had already produced the F-16s.

"The United States has consistently said what the technical requirements are for more than two years, and everyone should have known that these are the technical requirements, and so it's a bit of a surprise to me that there is this slowdown right now," Kohorst said December 8 in Zagreb.

According to the US diplomat, the debate centers on "who will pay for the conversion, because the US and its contractors Lockheed Martin have to do the work because they're the ones who own the technology and intellectual property… I'm not involved in the negotiations, and I don't think they [Israel and Croatia] have a choice, because this is intellectual property of Lockheed Martin, and they need to get [Lockheed Martin's] approval to do the transfer," the ambassador told reporters, as quoted by Total Croatia.

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Kohorst told reporters that the US, Israel and Croatia — a NATO member — remain "great allies."
Croatia's defense minister said December 9 there is no way Zagreb will pay any additional costs for the batch of 12 jets. "As far as Croatia is concerned, there are no additional costs," Krstičević told reporters on Sunday.

Israeli Ambassador to Croatia Zina Kalay Kleitman called for patience while saying she was hopeful for an answer to the technical requirements question by the end of the month.

Israel's move to sell upgraded F-16s infuriated the Trump administration, Axios' Barack David of Channel 10 news reported December 6. The US was competing with Israel for the same contract, and American officials accused their Israeli counterparts of dishonesty and capturing profits from the F-16 sale, the Axios report says.

A clash between Israel and the US would have been a rare break from the cozy relations the two countries have maintained during the first two years of US President Donald Trump's term.

"I'm in favor, but Defense Secretary [James] Mattis is against [the sale] — it's him who is blocking it," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last Monday, as quoted by The Times of Israel. Croatian officials fumed over the deal taking so long to go through and urged their Israeli counterparts to work out any obstacles with the US, according to The Times of Israel.

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