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U.S. Defense Official Urges Israel to Consider Alternatives to the Lavi

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Dov Zackheim wound up his visit to Israel Wednesday with a strong pitch for alternatives to the Lavi, Israel’s second generation jet fighter plane which the Pentagon believes is too costly to produce.

Zackheim, who arrived here Sunday with a number of proposed alternatives to the Lavi, held a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv following a meeting earlier with Premier Yitzhak Shamir. He also met during his visit with Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The American official stressed that the alternatives — to which Israel’s defense establishment promised to give serious consideration– were all aircraft “that have been flown” whereas the Lavi, except for the initial test flight of a prototype a week ago, remains an unknown quantity.

Details of the alternative aircraft offered by Zackheim were not released. Unofficial reports said the most realistic option would be based on the F-16, manufactured by General Dynamics. It would involve increased purchases of that plane by Israel and its modification by the introduction of avionic and electronics systems developed by Israel for the Lavi.

LAVI COST PROJECTIONS CHALLENGED

Zackheim challenged Israel’s cost projections for the Lavi, contending that the plane would probably cost even more than the $55 million annually, currently anticipated according to Israeli calculations.

He gave assurances that the U.S. alternative proposals “would provide work for Israeli industry, including high technology work.” U.S. aid to Israel originally earmarked for the Lavi would then be available for “other projects” he said but did not elaborate.

Zackheim stressed that Israel could not realistically expect an increase in American military aid above the present $1.8 billion a year “in the current budget environment.”

The Lavi prototype had its first test flight on December 31, which it reportedly passed with flying colors. Peres said after a meeting with Zackheim Tuesday that he still supports the Lavi project.

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