Wing of Zion, Israel’s answer to Air Force One, was officially declared ready to fly this week – but Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office has no plans to use it.
“It has not yet been decided whether and in what format to operate the aircraft,” Bennett’s spokesperson said this week, adding that it will not be used on his next flight abroad.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not give a reason for the Wing of Zion’s grounding.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said that Bennett plans to use the plane, but the PMO did not change its response following her remarks.
“There is no reason that it should stay... in storage at the Israel Aerospace Industries and there is no reason to pay for commercial flights,” Shaked said in an interview with KAN Reshet Bet on Thursday morning.
The state purchased the 25-year-old blue Boeing 767 five years ago, and has spent the intervening time customizing it to the needs of the prime minister and president who are meant to use it. The project cost NIS 750 million.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid strongly opposed the plan to buy the plane when he was finance minister in 2013-2014, and continued to criticize it in the ensuing years, using it as a symbol of alleged corruption by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Lapid’s view on the plane has led some commentators to assert that Bennett is not using the plane for political reasons.
Israeli prime ministers and presidents previously rented planes from local airlines.
Israel Aerospace Industries workers’ union chairman Yair Katz ceremoniously removed the “experimental” sticker from the Wing of Zion after it received its official authorization to fly this week.
“What I found outrageous is that I see work that dozens of our good workers did” left unused, Katz said.
“We were given a mission to turn an old plane into one appropriate for the use of the leaders of the State of Israel,” he recounted. “Any senior government figure on an official state visit can take a plane… and also run the country while flying. That is what’s great about this plane. It is an office in the air with strict levels of confidentiality.”
Katz took issues with those calling the plane a symbol of corruption.
“It is modest, not luxurious or sparkling. It’s practical. There is no reason in the world not to use it, except for political declarations,” he stated.
The union head said that he finds it frustrating that the government would “waste money” renting planes from private companies when the Wing of Zion is ready.
“It doesn’t need special upkeep other than security,” he said. “There is a special hangar in an air force base. The big expenses were already paid. So the arguments about whether it was necessary in the first place are no longer relevant. Now we just need to use it.”
A spokesperson for President Isaac Herzog, who would also utilize Wing of Zion if it is put into use, had no comment.