TEL AVIV (Oct. 1)
The United States will allow Israel to sell 14 of its Kfir jet fighter planes to Colombia — a $100 million deal — to help cushion the losses resulting from cancellation of the Lavi jet fighter-plane project, Israel Radio reported Thursday.
According to Israel Radio, Secretary of State George Shultz informed Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of the American decision at their meetings at the United Nations in New York last month.
The Kfir, the first supersonic combat aircraft designed and built in Israel, was the precursor of the Lavi, a more advanced, sophisticated plane. Because its engines and other components were manufactured in America, the U.S. could exercise veto power over Kfir sales to third countries.
That restricted export opportunities, particularly to Latin American countries where the Kfir would compete with American aircraft sales. But Israel has leased a number of Kfir jets to the U.S. Marine Corps and other military branches which use them to simulate Soviet MIGs in air combat training.
The Lavi, like the Kfir, was manufactured by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and was to have been Israel’s second generation jet fighter. It was funded largely by U.S. military grants and Washington had been urging Israel for more than a year to abandon the project because of excessive costs.
The American position was supported by many senior Israel Defense Force and Air Force officers and by Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin on grounds that the Lavi was absorbing funds from other vitally needed advanced weapons systems.
The government decided on August 30 to drop the Lavi, a decision that resulted in several hundred dismissals at the IAI plant with many more to follow. The U.S. has promised to assist Israel in making up the economic losses.