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Israel on Its Way to Becoming Self-sufficient in Production of Arms

January 13, 1969
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Israel is well on the way to self-sufficiency in the production of arms. It is already manufacturing spare parts for its French-built Jets, will soon turn out complete engines, and will eventually build its own fighter planes of exclusively Israeli design, according to reports by Israeli military-industrial leaders over the weekend.

The disclosures of progress made by Israel’s arms industry, hitherto veiled in secrecy, was seen as an attempt to allay public fears that the country might be left high and dry by France’s embargo on military equipment and airplane spare parts to Israel. The backbone of Israel’s Air Force has been the French Mirage and other French transport and trainer aircraft. Israel’s aircraft industry has adapted rapidly to make up for the loss of France as a source of spare parts, officials said. Production schedules have been agreed upon by defense officials and industry leaders. The latter are convinced that their plants can assume the added burdens without restricting production for export or slowing down the development of prototype commercial and military aircraft of Israeli design.

The Franco-Israeli jet engine plant at Beth Shemesh, near Jerusalem, will start production of spare parts this month and will be turning out complete jet and turbo-prop engines for military and civilian planes within a few years, according to Aharon Nachshon, plant director. The Beth Shemesh works is a subsidiary of the Turbomeca engine plant in France, owned by the French-Jewish industrialist Joseph Shidlovsky. It is Israel’s largest aircraft parts manufacturer, employing 300 workers, some of whom have been trained in France. It plans to build engines for the French Fouga Magister Jet trainer, British-made Handley-Page executive aircraft and the Nord 262 transport. Another firm, Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd., is already assembling foreign-built aircraft and is developing the Arava, a locally designed Stol (short-take-off-and-landing jet) for civilian use that Israeli engineers plan to evolve into the first all-Israeli jet fighter plane.

Itzhak Ironi, director-general of the Defense Ministry’s military industries department said in a television interview yesterday that local industries are also producing all types of guns and ammunition now used by the Air Force which were imported from France until recently. He said military aircraft parts such as fuel tanks, bomb bays and rocket-holders are all being manufactured locally as are tank guns and ammunition. According to Mr. Ironi, Israel’s military industries are producing more than the country’s armed forces require and the surplus is exported. “As a matter of fact,” he noted, “France was one of our customers and we have not yet declared a counter-embargo.” Israel has long produced its own basic infantry weapon, the Uzzi sub-machine-gun, which it has also become standard equipment in the armies of West Germany, The Netherlands and Iran.

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