Cabinet Votes to Scrap Lavi

The controversial Lavi project came to an end Sunday, as the Cabinet decided, with a narrow 13 to 12 majority, to discontinue the project. The decision is effective immediately.

The tie between supporters and opponents of the Lavi was upset as Health Minister Shoshana Arbeli-Almoslino, in a last-minute development, bowed to pressures by the Labor Party and abstained. Minister-Without-Portfolio Moshe Arens, the main proponent of the Lavi, announced his intention to resign. He has not yet handed in his official letter of resignation.

In effect, the Cabinet adopted the compromise proposal of Vice Premier Shimon Peres to discontinue the Lavi project but at the same time allocate $100 million to Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) for the development of “future technologies,” chiefly the manufacture of a jet fighter for the 21st century, referred to as the Lavi 2000.

IAI WORKERS THREATEN REPRISALS

Despite the Peres proposal, thousands of workers are expected to be laid off, as the $7 billion project was discontinued. Hundreds of IAI workers who gathered outside the Prime Minister’s office, waiting for the decision, reacted angrily and announced they would take “unusually hard steps” to force the government into a reversal of the decision.

As the workers council met in Lod to weigh its reaction, it considered several proposals, among them to take over Ben Gurion Airport runways and to halt all air traffic to and from Israel, to block traffic on central intersections of the country’s roads, and to demonstrate in front of Labor Party headquarters in Tel Aviv.

The Cabinet decision to scrap the Lavi was passed en bloc by the Labor Ministers, with the exception of Arbeli-Almoslino, who abstained. The only Likud Minister who voted for the Peres proposal was Finance Minister Moshe Nissim, who said that being in charge of the economy, he could see no way to avoid the decision because of the need for economic recovery.

Arbeli-Almoslino, who until shortly before the decision had said she would vote for continuation of the project, blamed the Likud for the “grave it had dug for the project.” Premier Yitzhak Shamir brought the proposal to vote after he succeeded in convincing Justice Minister Avraham Sharir to vote with the rest of the Likud Ministers — even though he opposed the project’s continuation.

Arbeli-Almoslino said she had been forced to abstain because the Likud turned the Lavi project into a matter of party politics. In consultations among Labor Ministers prior to the vote, Peres reportedly raised his voice in telling her not to torpedo the proposal. Visibly upset, she burst into tears after the vote. Arens, who in the past served as a senior engineer at IAI, said he decided to resign because he was not ready to bear the “collective responsibility following the Cabinet’s decision.”

Science and Technology Minister Gideon Patt ruled out the possibility of a coalition crisis as a result of Arens’ possible resignation.

In an initial reaction to the Cabinet decision, Shaul Etzion, deputy secretary of the IAI workers union, described the decision as “catastrophic.” He said he was certain that most of the Ministers who voted to stop the project “didn’t really know what they are doing.” He projected that as a result, some 5,000-6,000 workers will be laid off. He ridiculed Peres’ suggestion to continue developing avionic technologies without the Lavi. “Israeli Aircraft Industries by its name is an industry, it is not just a research institution.”

A last-minute boost for the Peres proposal was a weekend letter from the Reagan Administration strongly urging the project’s termination. The letter reportedly implied that the U.S. would help Israel maintain a high level of technological research and development once the Lavi is scrapped.

In the letter, the U.S. offered to help Israel develop a research and development infrastructure in the defense industries. It also offered to continue helping Israel finance test flights of the Lavi prototype to develop avionic systems.

The 10-point paper, which was presented by U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, said the U.S. undertook to increase to $400 million aid which could be converted to Israeli currency, to allow for further technological developments by the Israeli industry.

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