U.S. Asks Israel to Drop Lavi Project

The State Department announced Tuesday that it has recommended to the Israeli government that it terminate plans to build the Lavi jet fighter.

The announcement comes the day after members of the Israeli Knesset’s Defense and Foreign Affairs and Finances Committees voted to continue the project by a margin of 22 to 6. The Cabinet will vote next Sunday on the issue.

“Both the United States and Israel estimate production costs at a magnitude which could not be funded within our security assistance programs to Israel without crowding out other important projects,” said State Department spokesman Charles Redman. “Given the budgetary constraints we and Israel face we believe a decision by Israel to terminate the Lavi would be in the best interests of both our countries.”

Redman said this view was conveyed to Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin during his visit here early last month, as well as during a “recent occasion” which he did not elaborate.

Sources have said that a decision by the Israeli government to continue the Lavi project, which would require an additional investment of $4-6 billion, could bring about a sharp American reaction, which would gravely affect mutual military purchases and thus harm the Israel defense establishment.

Earlier this year, then-U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Dov Zakheim spent five days in Israel trying to convince its political and military leaders that the Lavi, financed by U.S. grants, is too costly to produce. Zakheim urged the Israelis to abandon the Lavi in favor of an already tried and tested aircraft.

He proposed as options the F-16, manufactured by General Dynamics, and the F-18, each of which would be produced under license in Israel and modified by the Israelis according to their needs.

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