JERUSALEM (Jun. 23)
The Cabinet’s decision yesterday to permit, in principle, the export of Israel’s new supersonic jet fighter plane, the “Kfir,” will have no immediate practical effects on Israel’s economy. But it has already drawn sharp criticism from some quarters in Israel and, reportedly, an angry reaction from Marcel Dassault, the manufacturer of France’s famous Mirage jets against which the “Kfir” may ultimately compete on the world’s markets,
Government sources conceded that there are, at present, no orders from any foreign country for the “Kfir” and that it might be several years before any materialize. But the Cabinet’s decision gave Israel Aircraft Industries, manufacturers of the “Kfir,” the green light to plan ahead for increased production. The “Kfir” has been on the assembly line for some time, though it was unveiled to the public only last April, According to foreign sources, the jets are being produced at the rate of four per month at present. The Israel Air Force reportedly intends to order about 200 of the type.
The “Kfir” is similar to the French Mirage V but is equipped with the more powerful American J-79 engine used in Phantoms and incorporates certain Israeli improvements and innovations, Its chief selling point, when it goes on the world market, will be its relatively low cost. According to Israel Aircraft industry officials, the planes will sell for about $4 million apiece.
FEAR FOR CREDIBILITY OF ISRAEL’S ARMS NEEDS
The Cabinet’s decision to authorize export of Israel’s first home-built combat aircraft was reportedly based on the recommendation of Defense Minister Shimon Peres who, while attending the Paris Air Show recently was said to have been impressed by the broad interest shown in the “Kfir” by potential customers. The Israeli plane was not displayed at the Air Show, The official reason given was that it could not be readied in time. But the French authorities are known to have been displeased at the idea of displaying a competitive aircraft similar to the Mirage but much cheaper,
Criticism of the Cabinet’s decision to export the “Kfir” was summed up in the newspaper Maariv today. According to the critics, the credibility of Israel’s needs for sophisticated American planes for its air force would be greatly weakened by the knowledge that Israel has a surplus of planes for export. Furthermore, the United States, which is vigorously seeking markets for its jet fighters–especially the new F-16–is no more likely to welcome competition from Israel than the manufacturers of the Mirage, the critics said. They warned that Israel’s image in the eyes of the world as a small country desperately seeking anus for her defense will now be questioned and this may have adverse effects when Israel seeks arms in the future.