* Israeli prime minister wants official plane
* Uses chartered aircraft lacking secure communications
* Security chiefs says hard to consult with him in-flight
By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM, May 4 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu, complaining he has to rely on "some antenna they
stick on a window", says he lacks reliable and encrypted
communications on the chartered aircraft that fly him on visits
The disclosure, by the leader of a country with deep
security concerns, appeared in a report on Sunday by a
government-appointed panel that examined whether an official
plane should be bought for the prime minister and President
It recommended the state purchase a used aircraft and equip
it with secure communications and anti-missile countermeasures.
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.
"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 committee
said, after hearing Netanyahu and top security chiefs.
"Communications, when they are available, are not
encrypted," it added.
Netanyahu, in his remarks to the panel, 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
"There is communication, when they stick some antenna on a
window," it quoted the Israeli leader as saying.
Reporters who have flown on Netanyahu's plane 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.
Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen 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".
Tamir Pardo, who heads the Mossad, complained: "You try to
jerry-rig something in the cockpit - to improvise something that
is completely idiotic".
The committee estimated that a used long-range plane could
be bought for about $70 million, including the cost of special
communications and anti-missile equipment.
Charter flights for Netanyahu's overseas visits and
first-class tickets for Peres, who usually flies regular
commercial routes, cost the Israeli taxpayer $4 million last
year, the committee said.
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
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 5-hour flight to London last year.
(Editing by Stephen Powell)