JERUSALEM (Sep. 7)
About 15,000 employes of Israel Aviation Industries (IAI) demonstrated peacefully but noisily outside the Prime Minister’s Office Sunday to protest the Cabinet’s decision to scrap the Lavi, Israel’s jet fighter-plane project.
They marched around the building seven times, blowing horns in a reprise of Joshua’s phalanx before the walls of Jericho. They carried placards reading “Zionism Kaput,” “Scrapping the Lavi Means Dependence Forever,” and “Lavi, C’est La Vie.” Some chanted “Peres Go Home.” The marchers followed an eight-foot model of the Lavi which would have been the second-generation combat aircraft designed and built in Israel.
Police armed with clubs and shields were on the scene and troops with machine guns were deployed on rooftops. But the anti-riot precautions proved unnecessary. The demonstrators observed the conditions laid down by the Premier’s Office–that they observe law and order and not interfere with Ministers entering the building to attend the weekly Cabinet session.
The Lavi decision split the Cabinet along party lines. Labor voted to abandon the project. Likud stood firmly behind it and might have carried the day had not Finance Minister Moshe Nissim, a Likud Liberal, sided with Labor.
The issue is far from dead. The Herut Central Committee, meeting in Ariel in the West Bank Sunday, resolved to “make every effort to reexamine the decision.” Premier Yitzhak Shamir insisted, however, that as long as the Cabinet majority decision stands, it must be respected.
GENERALS COME UNDER FIRE
But Shamir sharply criticized the top-ranking Israel Defense Force officers, including the new Chief of Staff, Gen. Dan Shomron, and Air Force Commander Gen. Avihu Bin Nun who had lobbied vigorously against the Lavi. They argued that the hugely expensive project would rob the IDF and particularly the Air Force of more vital new weaponry. They contended that the American F16C jet fighter was as good as the Lavi and much less costly.
Shamir, however, blasted the generals. He said the IDF’s involvement in the Lavi debate was “a dangerous precedent which I hope will never be repeated.” Herut denounced Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, the Labor Party leader, and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin for their opposition to the plane. But observers noted that the resolution adopted by Herut to try to reverse the decision was moderate compared to the sharp rhetoric of Shamir, Minister of Commerce and Industry Ariel Sharon, Housing Minister David Levy and Levy and Minister-Without-Portfolio Moshe Arens who last week resigned from the Cabinet to protest abandonment of the Lavi.
The immediate effect of the Cabinet’s action may be large-scale dismissals by the government owned IAI, one of the largest single employers in the country. Rabin ordered to top management of IAI Sunday night to lay off 3,000 employes. He said 2,000 other Lavi workers could be employed on other IDF-backed weapons projects.
Nissim said earlier that the number of dismissals will not be determined immediately and he hoped additional aid from the U.S. would reduce the number of lay-offs. Some IAI employes may find jobs with the Israel Electric Corp.
NISSIM GOING TO WASHINGTON NEXT WEEK
Nissim will go to Washington next week on a trip planned before the Lavi decision. he told Israel Radio Friday that he would ask the Americans to quickly implement their promises to help Israel cushion the dislocations resulting from cancellation of the Lavi.
He said he would also investigate ways of utilizing American defense orders in Israel that would be most helpful to Israel’s defense industries in general and IAI in particular.
SHULTZ REAFFIRMS U.S. SUPPORT
Secretary of State George Shultz sent a message Friday to Shamir reaffirming the American commitment to support Israel’s economy and security. He told Shamir he understood the difficulty of the decision to scrap the Lavi but promised that cooperation from now on would strengthen both countries.
On Thursday Shultz telephoned Arens, a former Israel Ambassador to the U.S. who is highly respected in Washington. He urged him to withdraw his resignation. But Arens replied that while he was moved by Shultz’s plea, he could not bear the responsibility for the Lavi decision and therefore left the Cabinet.
Meanwhile, Peres told the Foreign Ministry Executive Friday that Israel’s main goal now is to strengthen economic ties with the U.S. and Japan, including technological and industrial projects.