U.S. Air Force Official Says U.S. Would Be Disappointed if Israel Continues with Lavi but U.s.-israe

An American Air Force official said here Monday that Israel-U.S. relationships would not be damaged if Israel went ahead with its Lavi jet plane project “but I think we will be very disappointed,” he said.

Air Force Secretary Edward Aldridge, here on a five-day visit, was received at Defense Ministry headquarters Monday morning and later met with Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and senior defense officials. During his stay in Israel, his first, Aldridge will visit Air Force bases and military installations, including the Israel Aircraft Industries which manufactures the Lavi.

Questioned by reporters about the Lavi project, he said that the decision to halt or go ahead with it “is, of course, on Israeli decision with many facets and many important but difficult problems. Our view is that it would not be in the best interests of the Israeli government because of the impact it will have on other programs which are equally important.”

DIFFICULTY OF MAKING A DECISION

Aldridge added that “We understand the difficulty of making such a decision. We are disappointed it had to be delayed and we are sorry a go or no-go decision was not made. But we understand the difficulties with that.” He was referring to the Cabinet decision Sunday to defer until next Sunday a vote on the fate of the Lavi project.

The American official, who is an aeronautical engineer by profession and received training in the U.S. space program, also told reporters “I don’t think there will be any negative effect (if the Lavi project continues). We will be disappointed. But it is an Israeli government decision — it is their decision to make. Our views about the program are well known and we would be disappointed. But as far as our relationships exist, it will not affect those relationships.”

HOPING FOR A CABINET MAJORITY

The Cabinet’s decision Sunday to delay voting on the Lavi followed public urgings last week by the State Department and personal messages by Secretary of State George Shultz to top Israeli government leaders to ground the Lavi. In addition, a growing number of Cabinet Ministers now favor scrapping the jet. Premier Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres resolved privately and recommended jointly to the Cabinet that it defer a vote for a week or two.

Peres said Monday that the Cabinet will deal with the Lavi project at its next session. He told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that there would have been a tie had the vote been called at Sunday’s session. He said he hoped that by next Sunday’s Cabinet meeting there will be a majority for continuing the Lavi.

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