Israel cannot deliver the F-16 fighter jets to Croatia, the Croatian Defence Minister Damir Krsticevic said on Thursday after meeting with the Israeli representatives in Zagreb, officially confirming that the deal on the procurement of jets has fallen through.
“Israel has notified the Croatian Defence Ministry it, unfortunately, cannot get the US approval for the delivery of the fighter jets. The Ministry will now propose the next steps to the government. The contract was not signed, and there will be no financial damage for Croatia. Croatia does not bear any responsibility (for the result),” Krsticevic said after the meeting.
Croatia has in March last year reached a deal with Israel on the procurement of 12 F-16 C/D Barak fighter jets, worth about 3.1 billion kuna ($477 million). The aircraft, between 25 and 30 years old, were intended to replace the outdated Soviet-made MiG-21 aircraft currently used by the Croatian Air Force.
However, the media reported in December that the Trump administration was blocking the deal, since the aircraft were originally manufactured by the US company Lockheed Martin, and US insisted that the planes must be stripped of modernised electronics installed by the Israeli Air Force before being transferred to a third party.
“Croatia could not have changed the outcome and bears no responsibility. Israel was unable to secure the permission for the third-party transfer,” said the Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Defence, Udi Adam, in Zagreb after the meeting, adding that the Israeli Defence Ministry was "looking forward to further developing bilateral relations with Croatia.”
"We have asked all the relevant questions and have received appropriate guarantees," Krsticevic said, adding that Croatia "led this complex process from the beginning to the end systematically and responsibly."
After the reports on the US’ blocking the deal had surfaced in December, the US Ambassador to Croatia, Robert Kohorst, had said both Israel and Croatia were aware of the technical specifications of the deal.
“There is no document containing warnings about any problems with the Israeli or any other bid,” Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said on Wednesday, adding that everyone involved knew the US approval was needed, which Israel had undertaken to obtain.
The deadlock had cost Croatia valuable time, she added, warning that the Croatian Air Force was now reduced to only three, outdated, MiG-21 aircraft.