Presidents Who Overlooked the American Warning

Yesterday in Zagreb, the entire state leadership was eagerly welcoming a foreign guest, and they all stressed out that they have nothing to do with the announcement he was bringing, and that it did not concern their part of work or responsibilities. The visitor was the General Director of the Ministry of Defence of the State of Israel, Udi Adam. The news he brought explained why Israel cannot sell military aircrafts to Croatia. Right here, the conversations become really interesting. First of all, because good arms dealers, despite all the concluded contracts, have decided that they cannot realize half a billion dollars worth business, and then immediately after, because of the news that the sales project was suspended by the US authorities. Of course, it would be quite possible to interpret that the US administration does not want the Israeli army to resell old American planes, as everyone could earn more is the Croatian authorities would be persuaded to buy completely new and more expensive military aircrafts. Still, this seems to be the easiest or even superficial explanation. So let us start from other place.

Perhaps it is best to start from September 2017, with, it seemed, ill-judged statement of the retired Croatian Army Admiral Davor Domazet that the Croatian Army could reach Ljubljana in two days. And to add that Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović immediately dismissed him as a member of the National Security Council. Nevertheless, the question remained on why the admiral had decided precisely then to talk about the conquest of Slovenia, because he was not only an associate to the Croatian president, but also a writer of the book with a significant title, “Croatian Geopolitical Strategy in the 21st Century”, which he promoted precisely at that time. The book also contains an assessment that Croatia should re-define its geopolitical strategy of control over the Adriatic Sea. That the Croatian politics should realize that Serbia wants to make up in peace for all that it lost in the war, that Italy wants to control the entire Adriatic Sea, and that Slovenia has no other foreign policy than to insist on the implementation of the Arbitration Agreement and turn the Adriatic Sea into its lake, together with the Italians. That is why Croatia must show its power.

On July sixth of the same year 2017, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic was the first to convince that the ruling party would defend Croatian national interests, that the judgment of the international arbitration tribunal on determining the border with Slovenia was unacceptable, and, therefore, Croatia could not be forced by anyone to comply with the tribunal’s decision.

A month later, the Croatian defence minister, also general, Damir Krstičević, gave his speech. That the government made a decision to acquire new combat aircrafts. As it turned out later, he talked about a new plan for the defence of the Croatian Army, OH-58D, which included the acquisition of the Kiowa Warrior helicopters, self-propelled howitzers, and the DH-64 Apache helicopters. And all such plans need to be considered in a wider sense. At least from the immediate vicinity of Zagreb. Namely, just a few months before that, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić announced that his state would procure the second-hand Russian military aircrafts Mig-29 with which they would protect their borders and have the strongest air force in the region.

The Croatian government and the president of the state issued also a final decision on the modernization of the army. About the purchase of used F-16 C / D Barak Brakeet American aircrafts. Because, at least that was an explanation, the military aviation is also a significant signal in the diplomatic solution of the crisis, and that the Croatian army must become a superpower in the region and as such a guarantor of the stability of the Balkan peninsula. In the first week of August 2017, Minister Krstičević went to Washington for a meeting with then-US Defence Minister General James Mattis. The purpose of the visit was the license to purchase aircrafts. He was convinced that he would be successful, and he therefore stressed that President Grabar Kitarović had just met with US President Donald Trump in Warsaw on those days.

However, during those very months, something happened.

The first one to talk about this, and many thought because of envy, was the Serbian president, Vučić. Specifically, at the end of October 2017, he estimated that he did not believe that neighbouring Croatia would be able to buy US F-16s. If anyone really believed in that, he added, it would mean that he/she was not reasonable enough to be able to see all the consequences that such an attempt could have caused.

Croatia announced that they have agreed on the purchase of old, but modernized F-16 aircrafts with the state of Israel. Everyone was happy. But still the least the minister of finance, who was supposed to provide half a billion dollars for payment, and at least the same sum for later expenses.

The Croatian state leadership immediately invited and used three Israeli F-16 airplanes in August last year to decorate the 23rd anniversary of the Operation Storm. Perhaps a key mistake was here. The Croatian President, Dr. Franjo Tuđman described the Operation Storm as a military mastery with which, and this was not publicly announced, he managed to reduce the number of Croatian citizens of Serb ethnicity by half. At the end of the Croatian offensive, the then US ambassador Peter W. Galbraith reported to Washington on this and joined, in solidarity and protest, the infinite queues of Serbs who fled to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. Last August’s celebration was intended for triumph, and flights of military aircrafts for confirmation that the agreements of the prime minister and the minister of defence on the acquisition of new aircrafts were successful.
However, several months earlier, in January 2018, they obviously overlooked something in Zagreb. In diplomacy, there is an interesting instrument for communicating things that you do not want to speak in public, a non-existent paper. Non-paper. The Zagreb newspapers wrote and referred to official sources that, allegedly, exactly such a statement arrived at the office of the Croatian state president. That the purchase of used Israeli F-16s with all its accessories would not be possible. With the suggestion that Croatia decide to purchase similar used, but much less equipped aircrafts of the Greek army. And that was not the only document of that kind. That the Croatian defence ministry already had information from the American aircraft manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, that Israel would not be granted a license to resell the F-16 to the Croatian army.

Yesterday’s visit of the Director General of the Israeli Defence Ministry to Zagreb is thus even more unclear. It is unusual that the armourers do not want to sell second-hand or even old weapons. The reasons may only be two. Whether it is an estimate that a higher price can be obtained from Croatian customers, whether it is an assessment that the countries in the region need not be armed with sophisticated weapons, at least for now. We shall see.

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