Israel considers buying its own 'Air Force One'

JERUSALEM (AFP) - A week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly chose to miss freedom icon Nelson Mandela's memorial service because of travel costs, Israeli ministers voted on Sunday, Dec 15, 2013, to consider buying an Israeli equivalent of "Air Force One". They approved creating a committee to consider buying a plane for the premier and president, "as is customary in many other countries", a government statement said, floating the possibility of a shared aircraft for Netanyahu and globe-trotting President Shimon Peres.

The most famous official jet is commonly known as Air Force One, which is actually the call sign for whatever official aircraft the US president uses.

"Currently, planes are chartered from commercial companies, the cost of which frequently runs into millions of shekels per trip," the statement said.

Last week, media reported that Mr Netanyahu cancelled plans to fly to Johannesburg for the Mandela memorial - attended by nearly 100 world leaders - over projected costs of around 7 million shekels (S$2.5 million) for transport and security.

Mr Netanyahu has been criticised and ridiculed over his spending, including a double bed installed on the plane that flew him to London in April for the funeral of Britain's Margaret Thatcher on a trip that cost US$127,000 (S$159,400).

In March, he was deeply embarrassed by reports that his family enjoyed a state-funded 10,000 shekel ice cream allowance, prompting him to cancel it hurriedly.

And in May, Haaretz daily reported that taxpayers paid 318,000 shekels last year for the upkeep of Mr Netanyahu's private seaside home, including 85,000 shekels for water to fill a swimming pool.

Cabinet secretary Avihai Mandelblit said on Sunday that purchasing a dedicated aircraft for the premier and president would be a wise buy and in the interests of security.

"This is a national security need that will serve the State of Israel at least for several decades," the government statement quoted him as saying.

"Today the prime minister's plane lacks proper communications equipment, which the head of state for almost every advanced country has," it added. "The finance ministry has also previously determined that purchasing a plane is economical."

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