Israel’s Air Force One being mothballed before even making first operational flight

The NIS 750 million ‘Wing of Zion,’ which took years to complete, has never transported a prime minister and has been the subject of intense public and government criticism

The 'Wing of Zion,' the Israeli version of Air Force One, is seen above Ben Gurion Airport, on its first test flight, November 3, 2019. (Yoav Weiss/Israel Aerospace Industries)
The 'Wing of Zion,' the Israeli version of Air Force One, is seen above Ben Gurion Airport, on its first test flight, November 3, 2019. (Yoav Weiss/Israel Aerospace Industries)

No prime minister has ever flown on Israel’s version of Air Force One — and it is now unclear if any Israeli leader ever will. On Wednesday, the Defense Ministry announced that it is placing the Boeing 767 in storage just months after the plane received final approval for takeoff.

In a statement, the ministry said that in the coming days the plane will be moved from the Israel Aerospace Industries hangar at Ben-Gurion International Airport to the Nevatim air force base in southern Israel, where a special area has been built to house it.

“The plane will be stored on-site while being maintained until a decision is made about how it will be used in the future,” the ministry said.

The approximately NIS 750 million ($241 million) project, dubbed “Wing of Zion,” took years to outfit and was intended to be used by Israeli heads of state for official business. But neither Prime Minister Naftali Bennett nor President Isaac Herzog has touched the plane, which was commissioned under, and closely associated with, former premier and current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a scathing report released earlier this year, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said the cost of an average flight aboard the new plane would be close to double that of chartering a private jet for official business. Englman also criticized the demand for a plane that could hold 100-120 people, despite the average flight by a prime minister containing only 61 people.

Nevertheless, Englman said the new plane is “a clear improvement over the previous situation… in the level of security, including defense of the plane and information security.” Others have noted that the predicted costs of future flights stated by the comptroller include the already sunk costs in its creation.

Israel Aerospace Industries workers union chair Yair Katz unveils Wing of Zion on December 8, 2021. (Israel Aerospace Industries workers union)

The 20-year-old 767 Boeing plane, which underwent significant renovations, includes a private office for the prime minister, a bedroom with a bathroom and shower, a fully stocked kitchen, a meeting room and even a “war room.”

Following the comptroller’s report in March, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid publicly called for the sale of “Wing of Zion,” saying “it represents everything that was corrupt and broken in the Netanyahu government.”

In December, when the plane was given the final okay to fly,  IAI union head Yair Katz, whose father is a former Likud minister closely tied to Netanyahu, said it was “absurd that the splendor of Israeli art is collecting dust in the parking lot and is not being used for the purpose for which it was developed by IAI’s best engineers.”

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