Israeli media reported on Thursday night that US Secretary of Defence James Mattis has not allowed Israel to sell 12 F-16 combat aircraft to Croatia.
Namely, the US government must approve the sale of any of its planes that it sold to one country, if they are to be sold to a third country. Israel requested the said approval but did not get it. The article claims that people close to the Trump administration were angry because Israel modified the planes and thus attracted Croatia to choose their offer instead of the American offer. The Americans claim that Israel does not have the right to sell the planes, especially if the USA also made an offer in response to the tender.
Meanwhile the US embassy in Croatia has issued a statement. They said that the USA strongly supports Croatia in its desire to modernize its air force and to be interoperable with allies in NATO.
"For more than a year we have been working with Israel on the details of the proposed F-16 aircraft purchase. During these talks we were consistent and clear regarding technical conditions under which we can approve the sale," said the embassy, adding that they are currently working actively with Israel and Croatia in order to find an acceptable solution that is suitable to Croatia's needs within the given deadline.
The news has caused a stir in Croatian political circles.
“From their statement, which I only saw briefly, it is clear that they are very interested in resolving this problem, if it exists to that degree,” said Prime Minister Andrej Plenković adding that he doesn’t believe the deal will fall through.
Croatian Minister of Defence Damir Krstičević also displayed a calm composure. “It is a fact that the government of the United States of America gave the state of Israel approval to offer the Israeli F-16 to Croatia and we have that document. The second fact is that the state of Israel has taken on the obligation in their offer to deliver a NATO compatible aircraft to Croatia and that the prolonging of its life span will be done with the approval of the original producer, Lockheed Martin. And third, the approval for delivering the planes to Croatia is the responsibility of the state of Israel,” said Minister Krstičević in a statement to the press.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: US opposition to the sale is mainly due to the fact that the aircraft have been modified without its permission with unspecified Israeli-manufactured electronic systems.
This equipment made them more attractive to Croatia than the F-16s that Washington was offering in competition. The US considers this was an unfair advantage, and is now insisting that they should be returned to the previous standard.
Croatian Defence Minister Damir Krstičević said Dec 9 that Croatia will not pay any additional costs to modify the aircraft to the technical criteria set by Washington, which is insisting they be retrofitted to their original configuration.
Croatia is reportedly furious about the holdup of the sale and recently told Israel to work out the matter with the US, the Times of Israel reported Friday, adding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the matter during his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels on Dec. 3.)