Israeli F-16s get in middle of bitter Serbian-Croatian dispute

Belgrade "deeply disappointed" at Israeli participation in celebratory flyover.

An Israeli F-16 fighter jet takes off from Ovda airbase (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
An Israeli F-16 fighter jet takes off from Ovda airbase
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
Serbia is “deeply disappointed” that Israeli jets slated to be sold to Croatia participated in a military flyover commemorating the final battle in 1995 of Croatia’s War of Independence, during which some 200,000 Serbs fled their homes and war crimes were committed, Serbia’s Ambassador Milutin Stanojevic said on Sunday.
“Israel and the Jewish people have had a difficult past and should understand the difficulties and sufferings of other nations,” Stanojevic said in an interview.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Saturday that “Hitler wanted a world without Jews; Croatia and its policy wanted a Croatia without Serbs.” Croatia ceded from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, and fought a four year war for independence, with “Operation Storm,” which Sunday’s flyover commemorated, being the final battle of that war.
Stanojevic said that Serbia learned about the planned participation of the Israeli jets on Thursday, and Belgrade’s efforts over the weekend to reach Israeli political and military officials to prevent the Israeli involvement in the commemoration failed.
“Usually, other countries do not participate in this event because of the sensitivity of the issue and the different opinions about the historic events,” he said. “For us, Israel is a very friendly country, so it was surprising to see the active participation of two flights in the military exhibition over the historic Serbian town of Knin, that is now empty. This is a deeply disappointing gesture for us.”
A US military envoy also took part in the ceremonies. '
The Foreign Ministry had no response and directed inquires to the IDF Spokesperson’s Office, which, despite numerous calls, did not respond.
Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and director of the center’s Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs, said that Israel’s participation in the event was “unimaginable.”
“Why would Israel take sides in Balkan wars?” he asked. “Both countries have very good relations with Israel; there is a great deal of admiration for Israel in both capitals.”
Zuroff said that “both sides committed war crimes, and to participate in an event that is basically honoring a victory that led to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Serbs, is not a good idea – it does not make any sense.”
Three Israeli Air Force F-16 Barak fighter jets landed at Croatia’s 91st air base in Pleso on August 2 and were inspected by Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Damir Krsticevic and chief of general staff of the Croatian Armed Forces Gen. Mirko Sundov.
According to reports, the jets were in Croatia as part of a demonstration tour pending Israel’s sale of 12 F-16s to the European country, to be delivered by 2020 to replace their fleet of 12 Soviet-designed Mikoyan MiG-21.
Croatia officially chose the Israeli jets on March 29 in a deal worth close to $500 million, and according to local press, the 12 F-16C/D Barak jets will be called Flash and Storm after the two Croatian military operations against Serbia in 1995.
Prior to the celebratory flight, Croatian Air Force squadron commander Christian Jagodic and the commander of Israel’s Ramat David Airbase conducted a joint flight in Croatia’s MiG-21 fighter jets.
“After our pilot Zeljko Ninic flew an F-16 in Israel, we have had the opportunity to see an Israeli pilot fly an MiG-21,” Total Croatia news site quoted Krsticevic as saying. “That is confirmation of our strategic partnership and friendship with Israel. I am pleased that in the period to come our pilots will have the opportunity to learn from the best, and they are Israeli pilots.”