After 66 years, Israel’s prime minister and president will – as a result of a cabinet decision on Sunday – soon have a dedicated plane available to transport them around the world.
The cabinet approved the recommendations of the Goldberg Committee – a public committee established in December and headed by former Supreme Court justice and state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg – to purchase an Air Force One-type plane for Israel’s leaders at an estimated cost of between NIS 50m. to NIS 70m.
The cabinet also approved the committee’s recommendation to continue planning a new single structure for the prime minister’s residence and office, to be located in the complex of government offices near the Knesset. The expected cost of this structure ranges from between NIS 650m. to NIS 800m. Plans to build the new office and residence were shelved by Netanyahu during his first term.
The Defense Ministry is to present to the security cabinet within 60 days a concrete proposal for the purchase of the plane, which will be under the authority of the air force.
The purchase of the plane will likely end continuing scrutiny by the press on how much each trip abroad costs the state. Netanyahu was skewered last May when it was revealed that the state spent some NIS 450,000 to outfit a leased El Al plane with a double bed in an enclosed room for a five-hour flight to London to attend Margaret Thatcher’s funeral.
Transporting the prime minister and president abroad – the prime minister on planes rented from Israel’s airline carriers, usually EL Al, and Peres in first class on commercial airliners – costs on average of some NIS 19 million a year.
The Goldberg committee was told during hearings that, in the absence of a plane equipped with the necessary defensive equipment, Netanyahu has not – because of security reasons – been able to travel to some countries he would like to visit.
In 2012 Netanyahu, for instance, canceled what would have been an historic trip to Africa – with planned visits to Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and South Sudan – because of security concerns regarding the prime minister’s plane.
Likewise, the planes are not equipped with state-of-theart, secure communications systems, depriving the prime minister of the ability to be in touch with Israel when flying abroad; often – as on trips to the US – sometimes for 12 hours at a time.
Since 2001, the country has rented planes from Israeli airline companies for the prime minister’s trips. Until that time an old air force Boeing 707 was placed at his disposal, but it was unable to make a transatlantic flight without stopping to refuel, and was eventually decommissioned.
While every government since Ariel Sharon’s has discussed purchasing a plane, the issue has been considered politically loaded – and as such avoided – since any prime minister who approves it runs the risk of being accused of excessiveness and lavishness.
In addition to Goldberg, the other members of the committee were former air force commander Ido Nehushtan and accountant Iris Stark.
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