Watchdog Launches Probe Into Netanyahu's New Plane After Budget Quadruples

State Comptroller notes the decision to examine the project was made following 'several complaints that were filed' regarding it ■ Original budget was $48 million, estimates now place the plane at $275 million

FILE PHOTO: Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, arrive in Brazil on December 28, 2018
אבי אוחיון / לע"מ

The State Comptroller is launching a comprehensive examination of a project for purchasing and improving a new aircraft for Israel's prime minister.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira instructed the unit in his office charged with oversight of the defense establishment to look into "a plane designated to flying the country’s prime ministers," which is both delayed and will cost almost five times more than originally budgeted.

Following Shapira's instruction, letters were sent to all the relevant bodies, including the Prime Minister’s Office, the Defense Ministry, the Israel Air Force and Israel Aerospace Industries.

The letters requested that these organizations, which are subject to the Comptroller’s inspection, notify the relevant officials of the inquiry, as well as of their obligation to provide the Comptroller’s office with any material pertinent to it.

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Among the topics to be examined are the way this project and its components are defined, the way decisions are being implemented, as well as changes in the budget in relation to the initial proposal. The supervision of the project’s implementation will include looking at the interface between different parts of the project and the reciprocal relations between various agencies involved.

The comptroller noted the decision to examine the project was made following “several complaints that were filed' regarding it.

The prime ministerial plane and questions related to its need, costs and manner of completion have been extensively reviewed in Haaretz over the last few months and in other media outlets.

The first decision to acquire such a plane was made following a report by a public committee headed by retired judge Eliezer Goldberg, and was discussed by the security cabinet. However, since the initial approval, the original allocated budget has been breached repeatedly, with attendant changes in the timetable for the project’s completion.

The committee’s 2014 sessions talked of a budget amounting to 175 million shekels ($48 million), which was economically justifiable. Later, the security cabinet approved a budget of 360 million shekels, at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request. This later increased to 580 million shekels. Towards the end of 2018 it was reported that the project was approaching a price tag of 800 million shekels, with some sources now telling Haaretz that the realistic figure for completing the project would surpass one billion shekels, nearly $275 million.

In tandem, work on converting and preparing the Boeing jet that was purchased for this project was extended. The plane arrived at the Israel Aerospace Industries’ facilities in the summer of 2016. Work was initially supposed to take one year, but completion is now scheduled for the summer of 2019, at the earliest, namely three years after work has begun.

The Prime Minister’s Office repeatedly refuses to answer Haaretz inquiries regarding budgetary and planning excursions. The office’s representative also declined to dispel the haze around the project or to discuss the reasons for the budget excesses at a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee she was invited to.

The Prime Minister’s Office issued the following response: “In total contrast to what has been claimed, the budget did not exceed what was approved by the cabinet."

The statement said that as a result of the tender put out before the plane was purchased, the amount paid for the plane is significantly lower than the one mentioned in the Goldberg Committee’s report.

"The project includes many components which cannot be specified for security reasons, as well as overall operational and maintenance costs for the next five years,” the statement concluded.