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US blocking Israel’s F-16 sale to Croatia?

December 11, 2018 (by Lieven Dewitte) - US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has reportedly refused to approve the sale of 12 F-16 combat aircraft to Croatia. The US government must approve the sale of its planes sold to any country.

IDFAF F-16D block 30 #041 from Tayeset 109 is touching down on the runway during an open day in Greece in 2016. [SFPA-Ikaros photo by George Eustathiou]

According to a report by Israel’s Channel 10, which quoted unnamed Israeli officials, Washington is upset that Israel added advanced Israeli-made electronic systems to the planes, giving Jerusalem an edge over American planes and therefore unfairly profiting from the deal.

The US embassy in Croatia on the other hand has issued a statement that the nation strongly supports Croatia in its desire to modernize its air force and to be interoperable with allies in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

"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," Voice of Croatia quoted the embassy as saying Friday, 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 F-16s are supposed to replace the Croatian fleet of 12 Soviet-designed Mikoyan MiG-21 fighter jets and be delivered by late 2020. The jets will be called Flash and Storm after the two Croatian military operations against Serbia in 1995.

According to a 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.

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.