El Al plane.
The first head of state to fly on an officially dedicated airplane was the king of England in 1928. Today there are some 120 countries whose heads of state or government have an official aircraft for their exclusive use, from the US with the famous Air Force One Boeing 747 at the top of the list to Uganda with a more modest Gulfstream executive jet.
Until Israel’s prime ministerial aircraft’s scheduled debut this summer, our prime minister has been restricted to using Israel’s flag carrier El Al for security reasons and at a considerable cost. The Prime Minister’s Office has stated that “the protocol for flying the prime minister to meetings abroad hadn’t changed and is the same as was during previous administrations.
In accordance to security directives, the Israeli premier only travels with Israeli airlines.”
This monopoly led to a public outcry over alleged extravagance by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April 2013, when El Al installed a double bed for the five-hour flight to London to attend the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. El Al charged Israel’s taxpayers $127,000 for the installation. According to Channel 2, El Al took advantage of this monopoly, charging the government on one occasion $4,700 to place an oxygen tank on a flight for then-president Shimon Peres.
The Prime Minister’s Office reacted to the bed exposé by denying that Netanyahu was aware of the decision to install a bed for the flight. Then the PMO released a detailed explanation of why it was decided he should have the bed. An official justly pointed out that Israel’s prime minister is burdened with many vital tasks and must be able to rest before taking on an important mission abroad, such as his first meeting in Washington with President Donald Trump.
Reports of these kind demonstrate a culture of pettiness that is unbecoming for a country like Israel. It is in the country and its citizens’ interest that the prime minister be well rested before attending meetings of strategic and national importance. The prime minister should be well rested so he can perform his duties to the best of his abilities.
Israel Air Force One is to make its debut this summer, not in time for the current Washington visit, but ready for the ones to follow. Like its American counterpart, the plane will be equipped with state-of-theart defense systems and advanced communications that will enable constant communication with Israel.
The aircraft will be equipped with a locally produced missile defense system, according to Channel 2: Elbit Systems’ Flight Guard, which is designed to protect the aircraft from shoulder-launched missiles during takeoff and landing.
The plane arrived in Israel last summer and is being retrofitted by Israel Aerospace Industries. Further details about the aircraft are subject to military censorship and blurry photographs of the plane have been pixilated in order to comply.
There is another aspect of Netanyahu’s current trip to the US that merits attention: the fact that the prime minister’s wife, Sara, accompanies him, as she does on almost all of his foreign visits. Sara Netanyahu has come under what we believe to be undeserved criticism for her appearance at her husband’s side.
Her critics question why she needs to join the prime minister on his overseas trips and why he cannot travel alone. They question the importance of her participation in those trips and if it warrants the extra budget that her security and transportation require.
This criticism is out of place. While the prime minister should be vigilant when spending state money, he has the right and prerogative to decide to travel with his wife, especially in cases such as Wednesday’s visit to the White House where Sara held meetings with Trump’s wife, Melania.
It is time Israelis understand that state visits are not luxury cruises. They entail hard work and require a level of focus and attention down to the finest of details.
Let’s stop being petty.
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