TEL AVIV — Israeli officials Friday forecast a close vote on Sunday when the Cabinet is scheduled to decide whether to continue a costly seven-year-old project to build the Lavi jet fighter.
State radio said the Cabinet, under pressure from the Army, the Defense and Finance ministries and the United States to scrap the warplane project, was almost evenly divided, with three members undecided.
The debate will be the seventh since Washington urged Israel to drop the project in January. Israel has spent $1.5 billion, most of it in U.S. aid, on the Lavi.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz sent letters to senior Israeli leaders this week recommending they support the cancellation of the Lavi project, officials said.
Peres Urges Support
But Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, addressing a group of visiting British Jews on Friday, said abandoning the Lavi now would be like "giving up on the country's technological potential."
Peres, the head of Israel's Labor Party, added: "If the country is really interested, as it should be, in the continuation of the development of the plane, let's cut our standard of living and provide the money--that's my position."
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, of the rightist Likud Party, is also in favor of continuing the project. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Finance Minister Moshe Nissam have voice strong opposition to it.
An opinion poll in the newspaper Maariv on Friday showed 63% of the public favored continuing the project in some form.
Israeli generals say the country should buy less costly U.S.-made F-16 fighters, to make money available for other military needs. They say the Lavi has far exceeded the cost estimated when the project was approved in 1980.