Former IAI chief Moshe Keret dies at age 86

A recipient of the Israel Defense Prize, Keret's name is indelibly engraved in Israel's aviation and defense history.

Moshe Keret (photo credit: ISRAEL AEROSPACE INDUSTRIES)
Moshe Keret
Moshe Keret, who for many years was among the most powerful figures in Israel's aviation industry, died in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning at age 86.
His family held a private funeral for him on Tuesday. But there is little doubt that hundreds if not thousands of people associated with Israel Aircraft Industries (now Israel Aerospace Industries) of which he was the president and CEO, as well as prominent figures from Israel's defense establishment would have come to escort him on his final journey, if they had not been held back by limitations imposed by the Health Ministry to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
A recipient of the Israel Defense Prize, Keret's name is indelibly engraved in Israel's aviation and defense history.
Born in Tel Aviv in 1934 as Moshe Kotlersky, Keret did his mandatory army service with the Israel Air Force where he worked as an aircraft mechanic. He later graduated in Mechanical Engineering from the Haifa Technion and joined IAI in 1955.  Over the years he held a number of positions including Deputy Manager of Strategic Planning, Manager of Marketing and Business Development, Manager of Organization and Marketing, VP Aircraft Marketing and Deputy Manager of the Kfir Project.
In addition to the Defense Prize, he was also the recipient of Aviation Week's Laurel Award for his significant contribution to the international space and aircraft industry.
He was appointed deputy CEO of IAI in 1983 and CEO in 1985.
Under Keret's leadership, IAI enjoyed significant growth.  In 1988, the company’s sales exceeded all previous records, topping $1 billion.
During his long career with IAI, Keret resigned twice. The first time was in 2004, just ahead of the company's change of status.  Some of his acquaintances surmised that this was because he had missed out on being appointed chairman of the company, which he reportedly wanted dearly.  But this was apparently an unfounded assumption, because at the request of then defense minister Shaul Mofaz, who wanted him to oversee the privatization of the company, Keret retracted his resignation and agreed to stay on for another two years.
Mofaz was particularly keen for Keret to stay on during this process because he had a good relationship with Likud MK Haim Katz, who was then the chairman of the IAI Workers' Committee.
In 2005, Keret oversaw the receipt by IAI's Commercial Aircraft production division of a $500 million contract from Vaught Aircraft Industries to manufacture assemblies for  the  Boeing 787 Dreamliner project.
In early 2006, Keret resigned again, this time under a cloud of suspicion that he had accepted bribes to give two people who were not IAI employees the exclusive right to sell  IAI manufactured armaments to specific countries. Keret had to endure the humiliation of police raiding his office and confiscating documents. In the final analysis, the case was closed for lack of substantial evidence.
During his watch, Keret oversaw some of the most important developments in Israel's aircraft and defense industries.  Not all of these have been made public, and some are still classified to this day – secrets which he took with him to his grave.
One of the important projects on Keret's watch was the development of the Nesher fighter plane, which is an Israeli version of the French Dassault Mirage 5.
Israel had suffered severe aircraft losses during the 1967 Six Day War and the subsequent War of Attrition and was looking to buy an updated version of the Dassault Mirage III.
IAI entered into a partnership agreement with Dassault Aviation to produce the Mirage 5. However in January 1969, in reaction to Israel's 1968 raid on Lebanon, France imposed an arms embargo on Israel, and IAI was left to continue the project alone.
Shimon Peres, who was one of the chief architects of IAI, having initiated its establishment in 1953 when it was known as Bedek Aviation Company, used to credit Israel's extraordinary defense and aviation projects as being inventions born out of necessity. Nesher was but one example of that.
Following his final resignation, Keret was interviewed by Aviation Week and asked about the happiest and the worst moments in his career.
His happiest moment was when the Nesher took flight; his worst moment was the government's cancellation in August 1987 of the Lavi fighter jet project which had been Israel's largest single weapons development enterprise, and of enormous importance to Israel's security.
Keret was stung to the core by the cabinet's narrow vote decision, not only because it impeded Israel's defense capability, but also because it meant that 3,000 people working on the project would have to be fired.
Keret is survived by his wife Batya, sons Gal, Kobi and Roni (who also works at IAI), daughter Rakefet and 10 grandchildren.