Peres Says U.S. Warnings Against Lavi Project Must Be Considered

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Wednesday that the Israel government would “have to take account” of the latest, toughest American warnings not to go ahead with the Lavi warplane project.

Peres spoke on Israel Radio in the wake of a formal call by the U.S. State Department for Israel to “terminate” the Lavi program.

The Foreign Minister and Labor Party leader has hitherto been counted among the supporters of the project — though he always stressed that the defense budget must be increased if the project is to go forward. Peres has argued that the Lavi would require a reduction in living standards on the part of the Israeli public — and that this is worthwhile given the importance of the project to Israel’s entire technological infrastructure.

His remarks Wednesday, however, seemed to imply that in the face of this firm and public American position, the Israel Cabinet will have to think long and hard about approving the project’s continuation.

SHULTZ SENDS PERSONAL MESSAGES

American urgings against the project were intensified Wednesday. Secretary of State George Shultz sent personal messages to Premier Yitzhak Shamir, Peres, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Finance Minister Moshe Nissim and Minister of Economic Coordination Gad Yaacobi urging them to support the abandonment of the Lavi project by Sunday’s Cabinet meeting.

Rabin, in a TV interview Wednesday night, said it was “inconceivable” to him that the Cabinet might decide to continue with the project within the present budgetary framework. That decision would be “impossible to implement … There simply will not be the money,” he said.

Such a decision would mean “the kind of cutbacks in the IDF’s strength, including that of the Air Force, that I doubt whether there would be any need for a Lavi in the Air Force any more …”

Rabin appeared to imply that he would feel forced to resign if the Cabinet took this course, though he did not say so specifically.

He said the budgetary shortfall was around $220 million and the state — not the already truncated defense budget — must provide it if the Lavi project was to continue. Rabin indicated that he did not realistically see any possibility of this sum in fact being provided by higher taxation or further cuts in other (non-defense) government spending.

Rabin confirmed that he and Nissim would jointly propose to the Cabinet Sunday that the Lavi project be ended.

Meanwhile, the Knesset’s prime committee, the joint panel of the Foreign Affairs and Finance Committees, has decided not to reopen its debate on the Lavi until after the Cabinet has made its decision. The decision came Tuesday from Finance Committee chairman Avraham Shapira (Aguda Yisrael), despite pressure from Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Abba Eban (Labor) to reopen the debate and call for a new vote.

In a previous vote Monday, a large majority of the joint committees — 22 to 6 — supported the Lavi. It was this, in the view of many observers, that prompted the U.S. State Department to go public with its forthright opposition to the warplane project.

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