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August 21, 1987 - Image 53

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-08-21

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Israel Aircraft Industries displayed the first Lavi last summer.

most senior cabinet ministers last
week, Shultz—considered a par-
ticularly close friend of Israel—noted
that at a time when United States
budgets are being slashed, there is no
chance of Israel receiving additional
There have also been strong hints
from Washington that Israel could
suffer a curtailment of strategic
cooperation and even a cut in U.S. aid
if it chooses to defy the Administra-
tion. Washington is urging Israel to
buy American-made F-16s, roughly
comparable to the Lavi, at bargain
prices, and save hundreds of millions
of dollars. But it must be noted that
the Lavi debate long ago transcend-
ed practical economics. As a con-
troversy, the Lavi debate has
everything. While there is no ap-
parent acrimony — yet — between the
national unity coalition partners on
the issue, just below the surface lurk
powerful party-political considera-
tions which could well surface in the
coming days.
In addition, the Lavi involves
matters of high national interest,
long-range security projections, harsh
economic realities, Israeli pride and
American influence.
The lobbying for and against the
project is of an intensity and
sophistication that is rare in Israeli
political life; public interest in the
fate of the Lavi is so great that almost
all the other issues blur into.
At the heart of it all is the Lavi
itself, the pride and crowning achieve-
ment of Israel's most talented

aeronautical engineers, scientists and
The Lavi is a super-sophisticated,
low-level attack fighter plane
specifically designed to outsmart ad-
vanced tracking systems and to func-
tion in a missile-saturated
environment—precisely the sort of
terrain in which Israeli combat pilots
must operate.
It has been built around the
specifications of Israel Air Force
pilots, who are probably as experienc-
ed and successful in combat as any
fighter pilots in the world.
The cockpit of the fully developed
Lavi will be alive with computers,
programmed to instantly analyze bat-
tle situations, assign priorities and
provide the pilot with precisely the in-
formation he needs at any particular
Two Lavi prototypes, rolled out of
the hangars in January, have now
completed about 50 flights and test
pilots are extravagant in their praise
of the aircraft. A third is now in
According to current projections,
the first fully developed Lavi will roll
off the production line in 1990 and the
first battle-ready Lavi squadron will
be commissioned in 1994.
But the Lavi is unlikely to ever go
into production; it is unlikely to fly a
single combat mission. The harsh fact
is that Israel cannot afford the Lavi.
The public debate over the future
of the Lavi began in earnest early this
year when Washington—which has
provided all but $90 million of $1.5
billion in development costs so far—
blew the whistle.

Israel's cost estimates were
hopelessly flawed, said Pentagon of-
ficials, who argued—and continue to
insist — that the Lavi is simply
beyond Israel's means.
It fell to an observant Orthodox
Jew, former Assistant Under-
secretary of Defense Dov Zakheim, to
read Israel the riot act and try to con-
vince Israeli officials and politicians
that further development of the pro-
ject was folly.
To pour another $7 billion into
completing the Lavi, he told the
hostile, skeptical Israelis, would crip-
ple the Israeli economy and starve
Israel's other armed services of vital
new systems and material.
Zakheim disputed Israeli
estimates that the unit cost of the
Lavi would be $15.5 million. Accor-
ding to Pentgon estimates, the unit
cost would be in the region of $22
Zakheim, who speaks fluent
Hebrew, rode out the storm of official
Israel opprobrium, calmly, persistent-
ly and persuasively putting the case
for halting production of the Lavi.
In exchange, he offered Israeli
Defense officials no fewer than 19
alternatives to the Lavi, which in-
cluded buying American F-16 fighters
or producing the United States plane
under license in Israel.
Israel, he said, could also choose
to build its own F-15s, F-18s and Har-
rier aircraft. It could use the $300
million a year earmarked for the Lavi
to build its own submarines—or, in-
deed, to develop a variety of other
weapons systems needed by the army.
What the Americans would not

do, warned Zakheim, was to increase
its military aid package beyond cur-
rent $1.8 billion level. If Israel decid-
ed to go ahead with the Lavi and got
into economic trouble, he said,
Washington would not pick up the
Zakheim's message fell on recep-
tive ears, particularly in Israel's

The lobbying for
and against the
Lavi is of an
intensity and
sophistication that
is rare in Israeli
political life.


Treasury, where there was long-
standing opposition to the Lavi. Soon,
top military and defense officials were
also finding merit in his arguments.
Increasingly, the Lavi was perceived
as a threat to a diminishing military
A further blow fell in July when
State Comptroller Ya'acov Maltz
published a 40-page analysis of the
project, lambasting the decision-
making process on which the Lavi
was based. "A great many of the



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