Shamir Mending Fences with the Army After Rapping IDF Role in Lavi Debate

Premier Yitzhak Shamir has begun to mend fences with the army after his sharp criticism of the Israel Defense Force high command for its alleged interference in the political debate over the Lavi fighterplane project.

Chief of Staff Gen. Dan Shomron was received by Shamir Tuesday for a reconciliation talk. The Premier sought to defuse the tense atmosphere created by his remark at a Herut Central Committee meeting in Ariel in the West Bank Sunday, blasting the IDF for its “unprecedented and dangerous involvement” in the Lavi debate.

He stressed his full confidence in the military and its commanders, although he did not retract his statement. Shomron replied that the IDF took no stand on the political issues involved in the Lavi debate but merely presented its professional view when asked to do so.

Most top-ranking IDF officers, including the Air Force commander, recommended abandonment of the Lavi project on grounds that it was robbing urgently needed funds from other vital weapons systems. The Cabinet decided by a 12-11 vote last week to scrap the Lavi, which would have been the second-generation combat aircraft designed and built in Israel.

VOTE SPLIT ALONG PARTY LINES

The vote split along party lines. Likud supported continuation of the project. Labor was opposed. Observers believe the bitterness expressed by Shamir toward the military was more an expression of disappointment over losing the political battle than any real concern that the army might turn political.

In fact, Shamir’s remarks were mild compared to the rhetoric of other Likud-Herutspokesman at the Ariel meeting. They singled out Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, the Labor Party leader, and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin for attack for scuttling the Lavi. Peres hit back Monday at a Histadrut gathering in Even Yehuda, north of Tel Aviv.

“They say I am against Zionism, well, that is right. I am against so-called Great Zionism when that means 600 percent inflation or the loss of $4 billion in the bank shares crash…” Peres said. He was referring to economic disasters during the years Likud headed the government.

Rabin, addressing reporters Monday before leaving on an official visit to West Germany, the first by an Israeli Defense Minister, said he had personally encouraged the military high command to have their say on the Lavi at Cabinet and Knesset committee forums.

Other Labor Party spokespersons wondered aloud what Shamir’s and Likud’s reactions would have been “if the IDF had sided with the Likud and against the Labor Party position in the Lavi debate … Would he (Shamir) have then attacked the generals?”

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