Tel Aviv (Jan. 12)
— Mexico’s Defense Minister, Gen. Felix Lopez, arrived in Israel yesterday at the head of a 16-member delegation including the deputy chief of staff and senior army officers, as guests of Premier Menachem Begin. During his six days here Lopez will be discussing with Defense Ministry officials the possible purchase of Israeli-designed and produced Kfir fighter planes.
Israel has for some years been seeking foreign buyers for the Kfir, already in service with the Israel Air Force for several years. But sales have long been blocked by American refusal to grant licences for the use of the U.S.-made jet engines which power the aircraft. Agreement to allow their sale as part of the Kfir to Mexico and other countries was granted some months ago.
Australia was at one time interested in the Kfir but withdrew, reportedly under Arab pressure and the urging of the U.S. aircraft manufacturers.
Hints at a possible purchase by Mexico were seen in welcoming remarks by Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zipori and Lopez. Zipori hailed Mexico as a “great, free, democratic and independent country, free from pressures by oil states and the great powers.” Lopez replied that his visit had the full blessing of the Mexican President and should result in measures to the benefit of both countries.
Mexico has reportedly been interested in the Israeli-made plane for some time, as part of its program for re-equipping its air force. The Kfir is said to be competing with the American-made F-15E plane, for an order of 24 aircraft.
Mexico already has a number of Israeli-made aircraft and equipment, including the Arava and Westwind planes and electronic equipment.
Lopez is due to inspect the Kfir production line at the Israel Aircraft Industries factory Wednesday. His visit to Israel comes less than two weeks after that of Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Camacho Levya, who also headed a delegation which came to inspect the Kfir fighter and discuss possible purchases.