'Mexican Standoff' Preventing Army Move to Negev

Without money, the IDF can't build new bases in the south, but the government isn't giving up the money without getting something back

David Lev ,

The Negev
The Negev
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The IDF and Defense Ministry have a grand plan to move many of their facilities to the Negev, and in order to begin the process, the Ministry needs NIS 3 billion ($750 million). It's a hefty sum, said Benzi Lieberman, head of the Israel Lands Administration – and his agency will be happy to supply it.

But Lieberman wants the Ministry to do something for him, and for the real estate market in Israel. “In order to begin transferring the money, the Defense Ministry must move forward plans for the evacuation of IDF bases and facilities in the center of the country. When that happens we will be able to market land to developers, and use the money to pay for the construction in the Negev.”

Lieberman was speaking at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, chaired by MK Reuven Rivlin. The ILA, of course, could afford to fund the Defense Ministry projects from its current budget, but Lieberman and the government are very interested in prompting the Ministry to release its hold on some land in the center of the country. IDF bases in urban areas of the Dan region are said to be worth tens of billions of shekels, and the government sees the thousands of dunams that will become available when the IDF moves many of those bases to the south as a way to increase the supply of homes in the Tel Aviv area, and thus lower housing prices.

The IDF has been resisting the plan. Speaking at the meeting, IDF representative Orly Stern said that the army had no plans at this time to evacuate any of the large bases in the center of the country, and would only be able to do so when new facilities are built. Stern added that the army felt it would be fair if the government were to provide the IDF with extra money, when it starts building and selling apartments on property formerly belonging to army bases, collecting real estate taxes. Some of that tax money, Stern said, should be used to fund the IDF.

Lieberman and the Defense Ministry clearly differ on how to proceed, Rivlin said. “There are a number of 'bugs' in the plans that have been presented. The ILA does not intend to transfer funds to the Ministry until there is a plan in place to move army bases away from the center of the country, and the army says it is unable to do so until the ILA money is forthcoming.” He suggested that both sides go back to the drawing board and return with better understandings in three months, when the next meeting would take place.