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US blocks $500 million arms deal between Israel, Croatia: report

Israeli air force technicians check an Israeli air force plane F-16 of the Red Dragon squadron at Ovda airbase near Eilat, southern Israel, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013 during the Blue Flag exercise. The Israeli military says the Blue Flag exercise is an interna
(AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The United States is blocking an arms deal that would see 12 U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets being sold from Israel to Croatia, Axios reported on Thursday.

The $500 million deal infuriated Washington which warned Jerusalem three weeks ago that the deal would be blocked because it had not been approved by the US before signed, Israeli officials told Axios.

The officials also said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the issue with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this week in Brussels. Pompeo reportedly said US Secretary of Defense James Mattis was the one blocking the deal.

Washington accused Jerusalem of selling the F-16 fighter jets equipped with new and sophisticated Israeli made electronic systems, so as to give at an edge compared to US made fighter jets.

In order for Israel to sell the jets to a third party such as Croatia, it needs an approval from the US which gives billions of dollars in aid to its Jewish ally every year.

In October, a historic military aid package signed between the United States and Israel in 2016 entered into force, providing Israel a whopping $38 billion in US military financing over the next decade.

Israeli Embassy in Washington

The agreement, signed under the administration of former US President Barack Obama, is the largest-ever military aid deal signed between the two countries.

The deal covers the period from 2019 to 2028 and will see Israel receive $3.3 billion per year in foreign military financing -- up from $3.1 billion currently -- and $500,000 in funding annually for missile defense.

Although the new deal provides Israel with an average annual increase of $800 million in military aid, it requires Israel to phase out an arrangement that allows up to 26.3% of the aid package to be spent in the Israeli defense industry in favor of the US industry.

Earlier in October, Congress passed a bill to enshrine the deal into law, ensuring that future presidents could not suspend the aid package as a means of pressuring Israel and establishing a special mechanism to fund the deal separate from the annual budget, protecting it from future budget disputes between Congress and the White House.

The bipartisan legislation must still be approved by the Senate, after which it could be submitted to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.

In addition to the $38 billion aid package, US Congress in March of this year approved a record-setting $705 million budget for Israel's missile defense programs for 2018.


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