IAF F-16
IAF F-16Flash 90

Croatia has told Israel that it has until January 11 to gain US approval for a sale of aging F-16 fighter jets or the deal is off.

“Israel’s obligation is to obtain the approval of the government of the United States for the delivery of airplanes in the appropriate configuration to the Republic of Croatia, " said the country in a statement.

“In the event that, due to the misunderstandings between Israel and the United States of America, Croatia is unable to buy the aircraft it has chosen, the government of the Republic of Croatia will annul the agreement."

The US has been holding up a $500 million deal to sell old Israeli F-16s to Croatia. The Americans are reportedly angry that in order to defeat the US in the Croatian army tender, Israel added to the old American planes advanced electronic systems manufactured by Israel to persuade the Croats to purchase it.

The US demands that Israel remove the electronic upgrades it had installed for the deal to move forward. Croatia, meanwhile, has refused to buy the fighter jets if the Israeli systems are removed.

Last week, a senior Israeli official told Axios that now-former Secretary of Defense James Mattis had rejected a personal request from Prime Minister Netanyahu to give the acquisition his approval.

"For reasons we don't fully understand, the Americans hardened their conditions and, apparently, we misread their position on the deal," said the official. "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 U.S. conditions and the Croatian demands in the tender."

Netanyahu also raised the issue of the F-16 crisis in a meeting with Secretary of State Pompeo in Brussels in early December. Senior Israeli officials recounted that Pompeo told Netanyahu: "I am in favor, but Defense Secretary Mattis is against it - he is the one who is blocking it."