Let Israel's Air Force One take flight - editorial

Grounding Wing of Zion just to spite Benjamin Netanyahu is not a wise choice. Let it fly.

 Israel Aerospace Industries workers’ union chairman Yair Katz is seen ceremonially removing the "experimental" sticker on the Wings of Zion, Israel's answer to Air Force One. (photo credit: Courtesy Yair Katz)
Israel Aerospace Industries workers’ union chairman Yair Katz is seen ceremonially removing the "experimental" sticker on the Wings of Zion, Israel's answer to Air Force One.
(photo credit: Courtesy Yair Katz)

Israel’s Wing of Zion aircraft for the prime minister and president is finally ready to fly.

Originally initiated by previous prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the concept behind the funding for the project derived from the norm around the world for a country’s leader to fly in a private plane that provides him or her with the privacy, comfort and respect that such a position deserves.

With its strong socialist background, Israel’s past leaders didn’t want to appear too “presidential” or flashy. Historically, Israeli prime ministers and presidents were modest. They didn’t own houses in some cases. Menachem Begin lived in a small apartment that only had several rooms. President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi lived in a wooden hut. 

These modest accommodations reflected the type of leadership of some of the founders of the state. Hard men from the cold climates of Eastern Europe, schooled in facing difficulty, they lived at a time of fellow revolutionaries around the world who traded worldly things for the greater good of the movement. 

That was in the 1950s. Now, 70 years later, the country can afford an official state aircraft for its leadership. However, it is unclear if Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his coalition are ready to back the idea and the use of the plane for his foreign trips. 

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the cabinet meeting, November 28, 2021.  (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the cabinet meeting, November 28, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

It was seen as a wasteful vanity project by opponents of Netanyahu. Like many things related to the Netanyahu era, there was a feeling that he was aggrandizing himself and creating luxuries that were unheard of for past prime ministers. 

The plane, a Boeing 767, has the licenses now that permit it to fly. It is supposed to be used for overseas trips by Israel’s head of state or prime minister. It didn’t come cheap, costing some NIS 750 million ($242m.), according to reports. It has been compared to America’s Air Force One. It was an important project and Israel Aerospace Industries was proud of its role in it. The plane was taken for a test flight in February. 

For now the plane appears set to remain unused. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid opposed the plane in the past. The refitting of the aircraft was previously described as a waste of Israeli funds. Reports in Israeli media even suggested it could be sold. 

This seems like an incredible waste. The cost is already sunk. Selling it wouldn’t really help Israel. In addition, the aircraft likely has been kitted out with unique Israeli systems. Besides the fact that it is designed with various elements that befit a world leader, such as an office and kitchen, it also reportedly has a kind of “war room” in case it is used during an emergency. 

The aircraft also doesn’t have to be a waste in the long run. It can also be used to bring Israeli delegations traveling with the leadership to meetings abroad to sign memorandums of understanding and important defense and technology deals. 

Netanyahu was wrong about some things when he was in office. But he was right about creating an image of power and strength for Israel, one built on our hi-tech success. A presidential aircraft is an example of that. It shows off power. When our leaders fly to the Gulf or countries in Asia, having a powerful symbol land on the tarmac is a good symbol. There is little to be gained by pretending to be more austere than we are. 

It’s clear that using this aircraft will be a net benefit. Having the prime minister find other methods to fly abroad, using the private jets of business people or commercial seats on an airliner, is not the answer.

Israel’s new government has tried to fix some of the failures of the last administration. This means addressing shortcomings such as the impunity that illegal weapons have found in parts of the country. It means dealing with other issues such as the Iranian threat. We also have to cement the Abraham Accords. 

But the idea of an official state aircraft to fly the prime minister abroad is one project from the Netanyahu years that still flies. Grounding Wing of Zion just to spite him is not a wise choice. Let it fly.