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Israel’s ‘Air Force One’ is ready for takeoff, but Bennett’s not boarding yet

Aviation authorities clear ‘Wing of Zion’ for flight, but Prime Minister’s Office has not issued approvals; costly project was developed by Netanyahu, criticized by Lapid

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

Aviation authorities granted Israel’s version of Air Force One a “flight certificate” earlier this week, effectively clearing it for use by the country’s leaders.

The NIS 750 million ($241 million) plane dubbed “Wing of Zion” took years to develop and is meant to be used by Israeli heads of state for official business.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog have not moved to use the plane yet, though, according to Hebrew media reports.

In order to receive a license to fly, the plane must receive several approvals from the Prime Minister’s Office, which has been dragging its feet, the reports said.

The development of the plane was closely identified with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Proponents said it was crucial to securely transporting Israel’s top public figures, while critics, including members of the current governing coalition, claimed it was little more than a vanity venture by a premier seeking to boost the optics of his trips abroad.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Bennett’s partner in the coalition, said during campaigns in recent years that he would not use the plane, calling it a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Bennett has not yet commented on the plane since taking office.

According to a July report by Ynet, Lapid had been pushing to sell Wing of Zion. The report said the defense establishment strongly opposed his position, maintaining that the upgraded aircraft is important for Israel’s leadership.

The 20-year-old 767 Boeing plane has undergone significant renovations in recent years to prepare it for its special use. It 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.”

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)

Unveiling the plane on Wednesday, Israel Aerospace Industries workers union chair Yair Katz called it “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.”

He also said that rather than using Wing of Zion, Bennett is chartering planes from Israeli airlines, costing taxpayers even more money.

The project was delayed several times, most recently last year when then-prime minister Netanyahu’s office ordered a freezing of test flights, in order to prevent the appearance of unnecessary spending in the middle of the pandemic.

Last February, Wing of Zion successfully completed a test run, passing a major hurdle on the path to becoming operational.

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