Netanyahu set to bring Israel’s version of Air Force One out of mothballs, into use

NIS 750 million ‘Wing of Zion’ was being scrapped by Lapid, had prompted heavy public and government criticism for its high cost, has never transported a PM or president

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)

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu will finally bring Israel’s controversial version of Air Force One into operation if he becomes prime minister as expected, Channel 12 news reported Friday.

No prime minister or president has ever flown on the plane, with Prime Minister Yair Lapid, President Isaac Herzog and former premier Naftali Bennett all choosing not to use the aircraft which was commissioned under, and closely associated with Netanyahu.

The plane was mothballed by the current government, and Lapid planned for all of the high-level defensive mechanisms to be stripped from the aircraft so that it could be sold for civilian use.

However, ultimately the only tool removed was an anti-missile defense system that could be reinstalled, the report said.

Channel 12 said there were some “bureaucratic issues” that would need to be fixed before the plane could be used, but it was expected they would be resolved.

The approximately NIS 750 million ($216 million) project, dubbed “Wing of Zion,” took years to outfit and was intended to be used by Israeli heads of state for official business.

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

However, in May the Defense Ministry announced that it was placing the Boeing 767 in storage just months after the plane received final approval for takeoff.

In a scathing report released in March, 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.

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah Netanyahu board a plane at Ben Gurion Airport before departing for Munich, February 15, 2017. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

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

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.”

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