Israel to buy state plane after PM complaints

Photo: Israel to buy state plane after PM complaints / Israel

Israel's cabinet has approved a multi-million dollar plan to purchase an official aircraft for the use of the prime minister and the president after Benjamin Netanyahu complained that when flying on chartered aircraft he relies on "some antenna they stick on a window" for communications, according to local Israeli media.

In remarks to a government-appointed committee examining whether a plane should be bought, Netanyahu complained about how it was "inconceivable" that "the supreme leadership of the State of Israel is put into a can" that has no protection or proper communications, Al Jazeera reported

"All of those [who testified] pointed to the gravity of the situation, in which the prime minister does not have constant satellite communications for the duration of the flight, which can take many hours on trans-Atlantic routes," the Reuters news agency quoted the committee as saying, after hearing Netanyahu and top security chiefs.

Reporters who have flown with Netanyahu have on at least one occasion seen an aide walk back into the press section, cradle a hand-held satellite phone next to a seat window, make a call and ask about the latest news in Israel.

Yoram Cohen, the head of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence service, told the committee that sometimes his agency "had sensitive intelligence it wanted to convey to [Netanyahu] ... but the prime minister is unable to receive classified information during a flight".

The panel recommended that the state purchase a used aircraft and equip it with secure communications and anti-missile countermeasures which they estimated could cost nearly $70m.

After an ageing air force Boeing 707 was retired in 2001, Israel's prime ministers have chartered aircraft from national commercial carriers for official trips abroad, including 12-hour flights to the United States, a main destination.

Netanyahu, who visited Washington and Los Angeles in March and flies to Japan for an official visit later this month, has been pushing for the purchase of an aircraft, arguing it would be cost-effective.

Charter flights for Netanyahu's overseas visits and first-class tickets for Peres, who usually flies regular commercial routes, cost the Israeli taxpayer $4m last year, the committee said.

His travel has drawn the most scrutiny among Israelis, who bridled over $127,000 in taxpayer money - tagged onto a $300,000 charter bill - paid to El Al airlines to build a bedroom for Netanyahu and his wife for a five-hour flight to London last year.

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