by Mara Vigevani
Croatia will buy a squadron of used F-16 fighter jets from Israel, the Defense Council in Zagreb announced late Tuesday.
In a statement, the Council said it had unanimously accepted Israel’s bid and recommended the government buy the Israeli planes.
Last year Zagreb issued a tender to acquire military jets to replace its outdated Soviet-made MiG-21s. Five countries – Sweden, Israel, the United States, Greece and South Korea – submitted bids. Croatia chose Israel over second-place finisher Sweden, which offered a squadron of new Gripen fighters for € 800 million ($992 million), according to local media reports.
“We considered all the elements presented, from the financial aspects to the needs of Croatia. The decision was taken responsibly,” Croatia’s president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, said in the statement.
However, some Croatian officials have voiced concern over the purchase, saying replacing 40-year-old MiGs with 30-year-old F-16s would not sufficiently upgrade the air force and does not justify the reported purchase price of € 400 million ($495 million).
According to Novilist, the oldest national Croatian daily newspaper, the decision to buy the Israeli planes was pushed by Croatian Defense Minister Damir Krstičević, who the paper said is linked to a new company for aircraft maintenance and used to work in a company for drone operations. The paper said that Israel also offered to cooperate on drone development.
Krstičević said he expects the first jets to arrive in 2020, and the remaining ones by 2022.