Air Bibi: Cabinet Approves Private Jet for PM, President

New residence for the prime minister and a new Prime Minister’s Office building also approved.

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Air Force One-I? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara may soon have their own private plane
Air Force One-I? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara may soon have their own private plane Credit: GPO

The cabinet approved on Sunday recommendations made by a public commission to purchase a private jet to be used by the prime minister and the president, equipped with defensive capabilities. The commission, headed by former Supreme Court Justice and State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg, also recommended erecting a new residence for the prime minister and a new Prime Minister’s Office building.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the cabinet to adopt the commission’s recommendations and told the security cabinet to come up with a plan for purchasing the plane and the necessary defense systems within 60 days. The cabinet ordered the government residence administration to carry out the recommendations pertaining to a new facility for the Prime Minister’s Office.

Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) abstained from the vote, saying it was inappropriate that the subject came up as finalized recommendations, and that the cabinet did not have time to sufficiently discuss the idea. Finance Minister Yair Lapid also recently expressed opposition to the plan.

Explanatory notes on the decision sent to the cabinet read “the extent of the required budget is currently unknown, and budgeting will be subject to approval by the defense cabinet.” Members of the Goldberg commission estimate that purchasing a 10- to 15-year-old plane and equipping it for use by the president and prime minister should cost roughly $70 million, and yearly upkeep and maintenance another $13 million. The cost of building a new facility for the Prime Minister’s Office and a new residence for the prime minister is estimated at roughly 650 million shekels ($188 million).

The commission was convened following a cabinet decision in December 2013, and relayed its recommendations two weeks ago. Former Israel Air Force commander Maj. Gen. (res.) Ido Nehushtan, and former vice president of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants Iris Stark also served on the commission. The commission consulted 23 various individuals, include the prime minister, the director general of the president’s residence, the heads of the Mossad, Shin Bet security service and National Security Council, and the accountant general.

The commission stated that “There are many disadvantages with the planes being currently chartered for certain trips, including communication and security. These disadvantages will also exist if a long-term deal is made with an airline. These facts justify the need for purchasing a private jet for the prime minister.”

The commission also stated that the idea of forging a long-term deal with an airline was dropped when it became clear that no airlines were interested in such a deal.

In the face of opposition from Accountant General Michal Abadi-Boiangiu and the Finance Ministry’s budgeting department, the commission stated “a financial feasibility test of purchasing a private jet is not the only thing that should be taken into consideration.”

According to the commission, “Abadi also agreed with this when she appeared before the commission, and stated that in retrospect, it was not the right move to entrust this kind of job to accountants.”

Ministers from Yesh Atid, including Lapid, Health Minister Yael German, Science and Technology Minister Jacob Perry and Social Affairs Minister Meir Cohen, opposed the commission’s recommendations. Lapid stated three months ago, when the commission was formed, that he opposed such a purchase at a time when the nation is tightening its belt.

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