F-16 fighter jet
F-16 fighter jet Flash 90

Croatia is set to buy a squadron of F-16 fighter jets from Israel to modernize its military, after the country's top defense body backed the deal.

Zagreb launched a tender offer last year to acquire military jets to replace its outdated Russian-made MiG-21s.

Apart from Israel, the countries invited to submit bids included Greece, South Korea, Sweden and the United States.

"The defense council... has accepted that Israel made the best offer and gave a recommendation to the government to decide on acquiring" the Israeli planes, the defense council said in statement late Tuesday.

The deal to buy 12 already used F-16 jets, worth $500 million (403 million euros) according to media reports, has yet to be confirmed by the government, but the approval is believed to be just a formality.

"It is a historic decision... a project guaranteeing Croatia's security and sovereignty," Defense Minister Damir Krsticevic told the state-run HR radio Wednesday.

The minister has said he expected the first jets to arrive in 2020, and the remaining ones by 2022.

Top Croatian officials have voiced concern over the condition of the country's MiG-21s. Media reports said that only four of the 12 were fully operational.

Croatia joined NATO in 2009 and the European Union four years later.