Cabinet Set to Approve $5.9 Billion Relocation of IDF Bases to South

Defense establishment planning to move military bases over next five years or so, freeing up lucrative land around Tel Aviv.

David Bachar

The cabinet is on Sunday expected to approve a 23 billion shekel ($5.9 billion) budget for a multiyear plan that involves major transfers of Israel Defense Force bases to two sites in the Be’er Sheva area.

The plan includes the evacuation of several bases in the Tel Aviv region, where demand for land for residential construction is particularly high, as are housing costs.

The plan is expected to free up land at the Tzrifin, Sirkin and Sde Dov bases, which will free up land for 53,000 housing units. The relocations will be carried out between next year and 2020.

One of the new bases is to accommodate the Intelligence Corps, while the other is to house IDF teleprocessing operations. The bases are expected to have staffing levels of some 17,000 career soldiers.

In a separate development, at the end of last week the Finance Ministry asked the Knesset Finance Committee for an additional 939.6 million shekel ($239 million) allocation for the 2014 defense budget.

The Finance Ministry’s budget director said a full explanation for the additional year-end funding is classified and will be provided to a closed-door session of the joint Knesset committee on the defense budget – which is comprised of members of the Finance Committee and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

In recent weeks, the Finance Committee has already provided the Defense Ministry with a 5.84 billion shekel supplemental allocation.

If the latest request is approved, it will bring this month’s boost to the defense budget to more than 6.7 billion shekels.

A total of 224 million shekels of the funding would come from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office’s budget, including 120 million shekels allocated for the settlement division (which, contrary to its name, involves funding not only in the West Bank but also within Israel’s 1967 borders), and another 90 million shekels from the Prime Minister’s Office’s own spending allocations.

Another 186 million shekels would come from funds initially allocated to the Public Security Ministry. Some of this money had been earmarked for the Israel Prison Service and the Israel Police.

An additional 117 million shekels would be taken from the Housing and Construction Ministry budget, in part from funds earmarked for new construction, including housing in non-Jewish areas of the country.

A sum of 211 million shekels would come from the water resources budget, with 200 million from the emergency civil defense budget.

Despite the proposed reduction of 120 million shekels from the settlement division budget, the Finance Ministry is seeking an additional 30 million shekels for that division, to upgrade infrastructure in Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip, and 21 million shekels to implement a strategic plan for the border communities.

The Finance Ministry has also submitted other funding requests that do not relate to the defense budget, including 70 million shekels for the country’s four health maintenance organizations, and 3.25 million shekels for state hospitals for premature baby care.

Two huge bases in Be'er Sheva

The price tag for new army bases in the south includes 14 billion shekels for the evacuation of bases that are due to close, while the cost of building the two huge bases in the Be’er Sheva region is expected to come to 9 billion shekels.

The plan calls for the establishment of a new government company that the defense minister will be responsible for overseeing. It will be in charge of planning the new bases, as well as the evacuation and relocation of the old ones. A more detailed plan regarding the company will be submitted to the cabinet within 60 days.

The issue concerning the budget for the transfer of the bases was the subject of a public spat several weeks ago between then-Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Since then, however, Netanyahu dismissed Lapid as finance minister and currently serves as acting finance minister himself.

At the time of the bases dispute, Ya’alon announced that he would halt the process involved in preparing for the move to the south because he said it was not being properly funded.

Now that Netanyahu is finance minister, he and Ya’alon have come to an understanding on increased funding for the plan, reflected in the proposal that is being submitted to the cabinet.

The plan calls for the relocation and construction costs of the new bases to be funded in part from the sale of the land at the then-vacant bases.

This is expected to be supplemented by proceeds from land that the Israel Land Authority sells at locations unrelated to the relocation of the bases.

In addition, the government will seek to get the contractors involved in carrying out the base relocation plan to defer payment by up to a year.

Any remaining costs would be covered by the Finance Ministry.

The budget for the government company will be separate from the Defense Ministry’s budget. Its funding will be linked to the inflation index, which might push estimated costs up.