Israel Still Searching for a Jet Fighter that Meets Its Needs


By John W. Golan, Tablet Magazine

31 years ago, in 1987, an Israeli cabinet voted to terminate Israel’s Lavi fighter program. The ripple effects of its cancellation continue to this day. Israel’s leadership had placed a renewed emphasis on the development of an indigenous Israeli arms industry after the 1967 Six-Day War when Israel’s traditional arms suppliers in Europe halted the flow of weapons and there was no “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel. There were subsequent delays and suspensions in U.S. arms deliveries, such as in 1975 when the U.S. suspended the delivery of jet warplanes to Israel as a pressure tactic during negotiations for Israel’s withdrawal from western Sinai – the first of many such incidents.

Foremost among the realities that Israeli war planners have long had to address has been Israel’s lack of strategic depth – in both territory and manpower. This bitter reality has meant that Israel’s military doctrine has of necessity come to emphasize offensive tactics: carrying the war to the enemy and away from Israel’s population centers as quickly as possible.

Israel has been the first foreign customer to take delivery of the U.S.’ new F-35. But to meet its unique requirements, the IDF has reportedly prioritized the purchase of 20-25 additional, non-stealthy F-15I fighter-bombers to overcome the payload and range limitations of the F-35. According to published reports, Israeli attempts to integrate conforming fuel tanks into the F-35 to extend its range have been met with resistance by the U.S. developers. This has been compounded by a refusal to allow Israel to fully integrate an Israeli avionics suite into the new airplane that includes electronic countermeasures to shield it from surface-to-air missiles.

The writer has served as a designer, structures analyst, and engineering manager within the U.S. aerospace industry for the past two decades. 



  1. “31 years ago, in 1987, an Israeli cabinet voted to terminate Israel’s Lavi fighter program.”

    Lavi was jointly funded by the US. Rabbi Dr. Dov Zakheim – a senior US Defense Department official at the time – was sent in by SecDef Perry to assess the program. He found the program grossly over budget and behind schedule, and recommended the US stop further funding. Dov also felt that Lavi was draining too much Israeli resources (talent and money) from other potential military systems that Israel needed, and it was putting all its eggs in one basket. See his book, “The Flight of the Lavi.”

    Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

    • Your characterization of what happened to the Lavi, and of Zakheim’s role in its demise, couldn’t be more wrong. As attested to by the U.S. General Accounting Office, the Lavi was NEVER “grossly over budget.” If you had bothered the read the full article in Tablet Magazine, you would have known that the Lavi’s development costs were actually lower than those expended at around the same time in the U.S. or Japan to develop new or derivative fighter jets.

      Having read both books on the Lavi – both Zakheim’s text and John Golan’s – I can tell you that the difference between them is like night and day. Zakheim made NO attempt to understand what the Lavi was, why it was being built, what roles and missions it was intended for, or why Israel might need something different from what the U.S. was willing to sell. Zakheim’s only concern was proving himself a dutiful lackey for his bosses at the Pentagon (it was Sec Def Weinberger, not Perry by the way), and “terminate” the Lavi regardless of what might have been best for Israel’s defense. Weinberger was no friend of Israel – as some of us still remember.

  2. Basically, Israel would have been better off not taking American military “aid”; should have developed its own long term capacity. If Israel didn’t kill off Lavi program, Israeli air force would have a much better and cheaper fighter, and Israel would be able to recoup the costs through sales to friendly countries, which would generate more diplomatic influence. Not only that, but Lavi development and manufacturing would have pulled along other Israeli engineering and advanced manufacturing industries. Just wondering, if the Israeli politicians who voted to terminate Lavi in 1987 were bribed by the American military manufacturers, or were they just dumb enough to get caught up in the short term management mentality.


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