JERUSALEM (Aug. 26)
Vice Premier Shimon Peres, who has sided in recent weeks with the continuation of the controversial Lavi warplane project, is now trying to persuade his Ministerial colleagues to accept a compromise based on Lavi 2000 warplane plan for the 21st Century.
Peres met Wednesday with Premier Yitzhak Shamir, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Finance Minister Moshe Nissim to further his proposal, in advance of a still-unscheduled deciding vote in the full Cabinet. Rabin and Nissim have been the strongest advocates of stopping the Lavi project at once, for economic reasons.
Peres’ plan calls for the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), and the myriad smaller contractors involved in the Lavi project, to become involved instead in the development and production of a new generation F-16.
The U.S. Defense Department proposed such Israeli involvement in 1986, in the course of its ongoing efforts to persuade Israeli policymakers to forgo the Lavi. Washington feels the Lavi is too costly for Israel to undertake without seriously prejudicing other vital defense needs. Pentagon officials, and Israeli Air Force experts, believe the present generation F-16 can fulfil the needs designed to be covered by the Lavi.
NATURE OF PERES’ PLAN
Peres’ plan would assume U.S. consent to convert to Shekels and use in Israel a further $100 million of the U.S. military aid package ($1.8 billion annually) for the Lavi-2000 project. Washington has indicated in the past that it would agree to this.
In effect, the Lavi 2000 idea would mean Israeli participation in American plans for an ATF or advanced Tactical Fighter, viewed by U.S. planners as the leap forward soon imminent in warplane design and technology.
By referring to Lavi 2000, Peres apparently hopes to woo some of the Ministers who have backed continuation of the present Lavi project. Peres himself has become convinced, during weeks of intense consultations with Defense and Finance Ministry officials, that the present project is not viable without a massive increase of the tax burden on the Israeli public.
Inside sources say Peres’ new scheme is backed by his longtime friend Al Schwimmer, who founded IAI, but is opposed by the IAI’s present management led by director-general Moshe Keret.