WASHINGTON (Aug. 31)
The Reagan Administration promised Monday to help Israel find an alternative to the development of the Lavi jet fighter-which the Israel Cabinet voted to discontinue Sunday as well as lessen any economic difficulties caused by the decision.
“We recognize this was a very difficult decision for Israel,” State Department spokesperson Phyllis Oakley said of the Cabinet’s 12-11 vote. “But we believe it will best serve Israel’s interests.”
The Cabinet vote culminated months of bitter debate and came under pressure from the United States, the Israel Finance and Defense ministries and many Israeli military officers. They all argued that the project was too costly and would take money from Israel’s other defense needs.
Oakley noted that the U.S. “pledged” to Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin during his visit here in July that “we would work closely with Israeli officials in a number of areas to maximize the benefits of every U.S. security assistance dollar and to help identify ways to ameliorate the dislocation caused by the decision to terminate the Lavi.
“Our joint efforts will continue in an established bilateral framework to assure the maintenance of Israel’s qualitative edge over its potential adversaries during the coming years.”
While Rabin indicated during his July visit that he no longer supported the Lavi, Oakley’s remarks were the first public confirmation by the U.S. that inducements had been offered by the Reagan Administration.
One incentive was Israeli co-production of the next generation of the U.S. F-16 jet, the Agile Falcon fighter. “The government of Israel has several options to explore for possible co-production with current F-16 aircraft as an alternative to the Lavi.” Oakley said. She added that the U.S. “will be consulting closely” with Israel on this.
Oakley would not comment on a letter delivered Saturday night by U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering to Premier Yitzhak Shamir, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Rabin.
The 10-point letter reportedly expressed U.S. approval of using some of the $1.8 billion in annual U.S. military assistance to cover the cost of cancelling contracts for the Lavi and agreement to increase to $400 million the amount of the military aid that could be converted to Israeli currency. This means Israel could use the money to develop its own weapons rather than buy American arms.
The Cabinet also agreed to a proposal from Peres to allocate $100 million to Israel Aircraft Industries, which was to have built the Lavi, to develop “future technologies” based on the developments for the Lavi for use in an Israeli-made jet fighter in the 21st century, already called the Lavi 2000.
This is expected to save the jobs of some 5,000 to 6,000 engineers and technicians who had been working on the Lavi. However, thousands of workers are still expected to be laid off as a result of the Cabinet decision. (See story below.)