Barack Obama’s hopes of a smooth start to his first presidential trip to Israel suffered a hitch on Wednesday when his armoured limousine broke down. The hulking vehicle, nicknamed “the Beast” for its supposed robustness in the face of potential attacks, juddered to a halt on the motorway between Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport and Jerusalem.
An Israeli government official said the car may have broke down after it was mistakenly filled with diesel fuel rather than petrol. There was also a suggestion it had run out of fuel, he said.
The Secret Service said it did not yet know what had caused the breakdown, and the driver of a tow-truck called to remove the car said he did not know if a fuel mix-up was behind the incident.
The sleek black limo had been flown in specially from the US for Mr Obama’s visit.
Fortunately for the president, the breakdown happened two hours before his plane, Air Force One, touched down on Israeli soil, sparing him the embarrassment of a possible incident after his arrival in the Holy Land.
Mr Obama travelled from the airport to Jerusalem by helicopter as scheduled.
The car, which was intended to transport him around Jerusalem, was being replaced by a substitute limousine being driven in from Jordan, which Mr Obama will visit on Friday.
Moti Matmon, owner of a local tow-truck company, said the US Consulate in Jerusalem called him at around 10am local time to ask him to recover the stricken vehicle.
“They told me that this was Obama’s car,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
“They didn’t say what had happened to it. They just said it had got stuck. Only the mechanic was there when I arrived. The driver had left in another car. The whole thing was very funny.”
Mr Matmon said he transported the limo to a garage in Jerusalem, where it is now under repair.
He said he had “no idea” whether diesel fuel had caused the limo to break down, adding that towing and repairs costs could only be established after an assessment of the damage.
But Mr Obama would not be given a discount, he said.
“We experienced mechanical trouble with one of the cars,” said Edwin Donovan, a spokesman for the Secret Service. “We don’t know the cause.”
The Secret Service brings multiple vehicles on presidential trips in preparation for such events, he said.
“The Beast”, which can seat seven passengers, owes its nickname to the Secret Service.
Most of its specifications are classified for security reasons but they include a special night vision system concealed in a secret location. It is sealed against a biochemical attack. A blood bank of the president’s blood type is stowed in the boot.
It has run into trouble before. During a visit to Dublin in 2011, it got stuck on a ramp outside the US embassy.
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