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More Doubts on Lavi Project

The government was sharply criticized for its handling of the Lavi fighter plane project at a meeting of the National Planning Committee Friday. The panel, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Economic Planning and Coordination, was told by Economic Planning Minister Gad Yaacobi that he has serious doubts about the Lavi, although until two months ago he believed the project should continue.

He said the Inner Cabinet, the government’s top policy-making body, had erred in its decisions on the Lavi. All of the uncertainties and negative data were known six years ago when the project was begun, yet more money was poured into the development of Israel’s second-generation jet fighter, he said.

Prof. Eitan Berglass, deputy chairman of the Bank of Israel, called the Lavi “one of the gravest mistakes in Israel’s economy.” He said the project, was neither understood nor agreed to by the public. The government is unable to make decisions unless it receives uniform and balanced data from the budget department, the Treasury and from the Defense establishment.

The latter recently expressed lack of confidence in the project, and the Finance Ministry is strongly opposed, mainly because of the escalation of costs far beyond original estimates.

Berglass said there was no point looking for culprits now. The time has come “to examine what to do at the second stage of the mistake,” he said. Yaacobi said despite his misgivings he is still open to persuasion.

Two prototypes of the Lavi have been built by Israel Aircraft Industries and are being flight-tested. (By Hugh Orgel)

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