Flight of the Lavi
Inside a U.S.-Israeli Crisis
by Dov Zakheim
Washington: Brassey's, 1996. 296 pp. $25.95.
Reviewed by Patrick Clawson
Middle East Quarterly
Zakheim's fascinating account reveals how an important Jewish American official deals with the issue of conflicting ties to both Israel and the United States. Hebrew speaker and Orthodox, Zakheim served as assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan Administration. His father came from the same small town in Lithuania as Yitzhak Shamir, the Israeli prime minister with whom Dov Zakheim dealt and whom he knew nearly all his life. At the same time, Zakheim rejects the essence of Zionism, the belief that all Jews should immediately move to Israel.
In 1985-87, as the Pollard affair was unfolding, Zakheim led a successful Pentagon effort to kill an Israeli plan to build the Lavi, an advanced fighter aircraft. The Lavi made some sense in its original conception, as a low-technology inexpensive ground attack plane with a U.S. engine. But it then evolved into a high-technology plane requiring advanced U.S. technology. The cost became prohibitive, and it required extraordinary concessions, such as Washington's permission for Israel to market the plane to third countries in direct competition with U.S.-built fighters. In the end, Israel could get more planes cheaper by buying U.S.-built fighters, and so killed the Lavi.
Zakheim retained his equilibrium through the personal insults and threats to which he was subjected by Israeli officials. But he is too ready to attribute bad will to the Lavi's supporters when they plausibly disagreed with him about the utility of the program and Israel's procurement procedures. After all, the Pentagon's intricate cost-accounting system, responsible for $500 hammers and other monstrosities, is not necessarily the model all wish to adopt. Zakheim also underplays the concern of Israeli officials to be as independent as possible, with the laudable goal of defending their country by themselves.
Related Topics: Israel, US policy | Patrick Clawson | September 1997 MEQ
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