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AN ISRAELI SHAME: The Israeli fighter jet that never was

The Lavi prototype

On this week, 28 years ago, a single vote decided to end the flagship program of the Israeli Defense Ministry and a source of national pride, enraging thousands of the project’s workers.

It was supposed to be Israel’s domestically built fighter jet for the new millennium, but in a decisive government meeting on the August 30, 1987, a single vote from the then health minister managed to seal the program’s fate.

The Lavi program was born out of a 1970s vision within Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to design a domestically built fighter to meet the future needs of the Israeli Air Force. The government approved the project in 1980, and tasked IAI with designing the jet.

The program was fraught with controversy from the beginning, with claims being made that the programs massive cost would cripple the IDF’s technological expansion, as well as causing irreversible damage to the Israeli economy.

The Lavi prototype took off on its first flight in December of 1986, but the successful test flight did not soothe the ongoing tensions surrounding the program, with the debate over the project spilling onto the streets in sometimes violent protests by IAI workers, as well as veiled threats from the American government.

ministers, after having convinced Tourism Minister Avraham Sharir of the program’s necessity. It is believed that the vote to de facto kill the program brought forward by then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was meant to result in a tie.


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