TEL AVIV (May. 19)
The defense establishment was in a furor today over Finance Minister Yigal Hurwitz’s plans for new cuts in the defense budget in his battle against resurgent inflation. The proposed cuts could jeopardize the “Lavie,” the projected second generation Israel-mode jet fighter plane and also affect other defense purchases and probably slow down the construction of Israel’s new defense lines in the Negev to replace those to be given up in Sinai by the end of next year.
Senior officials of the Defense Ministry pointed out today that Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and Hurwitz collaborated in a detailed analysis of the defense budget and made whatever cuts were possible three months ago when the government first reduced its overall budget. Now, they say, Hurwitz is demanding still more cuts although defense expenditures have already been slashed to the danger point.
The “Lavie” is of particular importance to Israel, not only because it will strengthen the Air Force with a plane of local design and manufacture but will provide an important source of foreign currency through export sales. When Weizman was in Washington last month, he reached agreement with Pentagon officials to allow Israel to market the “Lavie” abroad. The permission was required because the plane will be powered by American-made engines.
The “Lavie” is admittedly an expansive aircraft. But Israel decided to build it, rather than purchase a similar jet abroad, the defense officials noted, because of other factors. It will stem the “brain drain” of Israel’s best aeronautical engineers and technicians who seek jobs abroad because of the log in the aircraft industry at home; it will provide employment for hundreds of aircraft workers; and it will add to the industry’s technical “know-how,” they said.