Israel’s government approved on Sunday a plan to move key IDF installations to the Negev desert as part of a bid to boost development in Israel’s south and free up valuable land in the center.
“Not to exaggerate its importance, but it brings to fruition a longstanding vision of moving IDF command centers to the Negev,” AFP quoted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as saying at the beginning of Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
Netanyahu added that the move would provide “strong momentum to the development of the Negev, assisted by the thousands of quality people who will go there, affecting industry, construction, culture in all its aspects.”
The IDF reported on its website that the budget for the project will be 19 billion shekels ($4.3 billion), seven billion of which will go towards a communications base being moved to Be’er Sheva and the remaining 12 billion for an intelligence base being moved to the Lakiah-Omer area north of Be'er Sheva. The communications base will be moved by the end of 2017 and the intelligence base by the end of 2018.
The Israeli government hopes that around a quarter of the cost will be covered by profits the state will make by selling prime real estate in central Israel that is currently used by the military.
“The value of the land is enormous,” Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting, and added that the move would also help to decentralize the security structure and strengthen Israel’s periphery.
“We are very concentrated in the center of the country, therefore, we must decentralize our national life in all main areas, with the IDF and security first and foremost,” he said.
“This is a national process unprecedented since the founding of the country,” the IDF website quoted Defense Minister Ehud Barak as saying. “Moving the IDF to the Negev is a national opportunity for development and for establishing the Negev as no longer a burden but rather a strategic asset for Israel.”