Prospects of Saab to sell Gripen fighter jets to Croatia have increased as Zagreb has threatened to cancel its deal to buy 12 used F-16s from Israel if the the latter does not confirm the status of the deal within a week.
Gripen had earlier been rejected in favor of the used Israeli F-16s but with the United States administration blocking the sale of the jets, Zagreb may have no choice but to go with Saab's offer of new jets combined with a liberal financing package.
“Croatia needed an answer from Israel by Jan. 11 or the Balkan country’s $500 million order for a dozen F-16 aircraft would be canceled,” Croatia’s Defense Ministry stated Thursday.
The United States administration reportedly blocked the deal between Israel and Croatia after outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis rejected a request from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the sale of 12 F-16 fighter jets.
Trump was upset with the modification of the aircraft by Israel that has led to Croatia accept the Israeli offer, Voice of Croatia had reported on December 11, 2018.
The US embassy in Croatia 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, the report stated.
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 Damir Krstičević, Croatian Minister of Defence had said during that time.
"For reasons we don't fully understand, the Americans hardened their conditions and, apparently, we misread their position on the deal. Practically, the F-16 deal with Croatia is dead and we don't think it is possible to get an agreement that will reconcile the US conditions and the Croatian demands in the tender," Barak Ravid of Israel’s Channel 10 news reported on Axios news portal in the last week of December 2018.
Based on earlier reports, it is unlikely that Israel will be able to seal the deal, which in turn will give a chance for Saab to sell its new Gripen aircraft to Croatia.
Croatia has invited a tender to replace its old Mig-21 jets and has received bids from Lockheed Martin for new F-16s, from Greece for used F-16s and from Saab for new Gripen aircraft.
While the Israeli Air Force F-16s are decades old, they have been regularly upgraded and come equipped with the latest weapons.
The Saab Gripen fighters on the other hand are brand new and the Swedish company is believed to have offered attractive financing options plus a weapons and communications package.