Under a deal agreed in March 2018, Croatia agreed to buy 12 used F-16 fighter jets from Israel

Zagreb (AFP) - Croatia threatened to cancel its purchase of F-16 fighter jets from Israel on Thursday after months of stalling due to a lack of US approval.

Croatia had in March agreed to buy 12 used F-16s from Israel to replace its Russian-made MiG-21s.

The deal, worth $500 million (440 million euros), was the Balkan nation’s biggest arms purchase since splitting from former Yugoslavia in the 1990s war.

But Washington objected to the sale of the US-made jets because it wants the removal of electronic system upgrades that Israel added in a rare defence dispute between the close allies.

After months of delay, the Croatian defence ministry said it asked Israel for “official information by January 11 on whether Israel can deliver the planes.”

If Croatia is not able to buy the specific jets it chose, the government will cancel the deal, the ministry said.

“We are not happy that this happened,” said Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on Wednesday.

“The government firmly stands by its decision … to realise only the offer as accepted” in March, he said.

Apart from Israel, several other countries also put in bids for the tender, including Greece, South Korea, Sweden and the United States.

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