Government Defends Failed F-16 Fighter Jets Purchase

By 15 February 2019

ZAGREB, February 15, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in the parliament on Thursday that he supported Defence Minister Damir Krstičević because all activities regarding the failed purchase of F-16 fighter jets from Israel had been conducted transparently and in line with the law, recalling that one of the reasons why the purchase of the military aircraft had been launched was the failed overhaul of MiG21 jets in 2013, when the government was led by the Social Democrats (SDP).

"The government rejects all allegations from the motion (for a debate on the failed jet purchase) as unfounded and incorrect and proposes that the parliament reject the conclusions in the motion," Plenković said during a debate on the SDP-sponsored motion. He said that no such motion had been filed over the failed overhaul of MiG jets even though the case was subject to legal proceedings in Croatia and Ukraine.

Plenković dismissed allegations that the failed jet purchase had jeopardised Croatia's security and position in the international community, adding that the allegations were based on superficial assessments, lack of understanding of the subject matter and political opportunism.

"As regards the US approval for the Third-Party Transfer (TPT), I want to stress that the country owning and selling military equipment, in this case Israel, is responsible for obtaining approval for TPT. Croatia was aware of the need to obtain approval for TPT from the start of the procurement procedure, but it is impossible to entirely eliminate all risks in any process," he said, explaining the chronology of the failed jet purchase.

The public was informed of every step of the procurement procedure, including difficulties in obtaining approval for TPT, he added.

"It is not true that Croatia's international reputation has been compromised. Both the US and Israel have stressed that they want to continue developing ally and partner relations with Croatia and deepen their defence cooperation with Croatia. Israel has stated publicly that Croatia demonstrated professionalism and sound judgement at every stage of the process and could not impact the outcome of the process and therefore could not be considered responsible, which is what the US has confirmed as well," said the prime minister.

He reiterated that there was also no harm for the state budget. "We will learn lessons from this, but we are determined to modernise the Air Force, and based on analyses and preparations, we will embark on new activities towards that goal. The government backs Defence Minister Krstičević," Plenković said.

Krstičević did not address MPs, but Plenkovic's address drew numerous reactions.

"You have reduced one of the most important strategic decisions to a cheap PR exercise and crisis communication. With your non-transparency, you have given new arguments to opponents of the plan to purchase combat aircraft and thus jeopardised the future of the Croatian Air Force and national security. How can one trust your vision if one day you want more used aircraft and the next day you want fewer new aircraft. You are no better than those who think that the Croatian skies should be given over to Italians and Hungarians," said Nikola Grmoja of the opposition MOST party.

HRAST MP Hrvoje Zekanović said that Defence Minister Damir Krstičević had done a good job, while the prime minister and the president had failed. Citing military analysts, he said that NATO's strategy did not foresee Croatia having its own combat aircraft. "You did not do your lobbying of President Trump," he said.

"Neither you nor these people from MOST will ever be in a position to decide anything that concerns the government, either the development of the Air Force or the conduct of the foreign policy. These are nothing but the dreams of the people who use these issues to attract public attention, without providing any arguments," Plenković replied.

More news on the failed jet purchase can be found in the Politics section.