Rendering of  IDF’s new training base
A rendering of the IDF’s new training base complex in the Negev. Photo by IDF

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will seek funding for the transfer of the Israel Defense Forces' teleprocessing and intelligence branches to the Negev after the defense and finance ministries failed to agree over the past six years on cost estimates and a budget for the move.

The latest effort by the two ministries came on Sunday, but it ended without a consensus despite mediation by the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Eyal Gabbai.

The Defense Ministry is seeking several billion shekels more than the Finance Ministry is willing to provide, in part because the treasury is not prepared to fund the upgrading of intelligence and teleprocessing equipment that the IDF wants to carry out at the same time. The teleprocessing branch provides a broad range of services to the IDF, including information technology.

The two sides have also been unable to agree over how much of the project should come from the defense establishment's own budgets. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss noted the deadlock in a report last month. At the end of the Sunday meeting, Gabbai chided the parties for not using the sufficient time they had to iron out their differences.

"This involves a strategic project of huge importance to society and the army," he said, promising to submit his recommendations to the prime minister so the cabinet could vote on the matter on Sunday.

In 2005, the cabinet approved a strategic plan to develop the Negev at a cost of NIS 17 billion, involving the transfer of four army bases to the south. This included the relocation of an air force base from Ben-Gurion International Airport to Nevatim, which has been carried out; the transfer of the IDF's training bases, which is currently underway; and the transfer of the intelligence and teleprocessing branches, which are to be based near Be'er Sheva.

The plans were finalized in 2008. They call for army intelligence to be headquartered at the Likit-Omer site near Be'er Sheva by 2015 and the teleprocessing branch in the science park next to Ben-Gurion University in that city by 2017. Nothing, however, has been done to bring those plans to fruition.

The IDF estimates the cost of transferring the intelligence operations at NIS 14.7 billion and the teleprocessing units at another NIS 7.8 billion. The combined estimates touted by the Finance Ministry are NIS 3 billion to NIS 4 billion lower. For its part, the IDF says the value of the real estate it is vacating in the center of the country greatly exceeds the cost of the move.

In March last year, Defense Ministry Director General Udi Shani offered to fund 10% of the move from the defense establishment's budget, but that was not enough for the Finance Ministry. In Lindenstrauss' report last month, he pushed for the involvement of the defense and finance ministers, adding that if the matter was not resolved as soon as possible, the prime minister should decide.