IDF Facing Tough Battle to Convince Career Officers to Move to Southern Israel

One high-ranking officer sniffs that benefits aren’t so attractive, with the army gearing up for fight to persuade high-tech soldiers to relocate.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The Israel Defense Forces is offering career soldiers various benefits in a bid to tempt them to move to new army bases being established in the south. The benefits include mortgage payments, fewer requirements for academic studies and moving expenses.

The IDF held a gathering last Tuesday for 400 officers who are supposed to be stationed in the new training camp center in the south. The first base, a school for army personnel management, is expected to move to the Negev next December.

Some 7,300 career officers – about a quarter of those currently serving in the IDF – and some 25,000 conscripted soldiers will serve in the new bases.

“It’s a dramatic change and we are very keen to ensure that as many of these 25%  will move south as possible, rather than commute on a daily basis,” Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, head of the IDF’s personnel directorate, told the career officers.

“You probably think we’ll tempt you with the detached house and a swimming pool waiting for you, or at least the barbecue,” a voiceover stated as a career officer holds a Martini glass, in a film screened at the gathering. “But we won’t. We’ll show you the reality – from a one-room apartment to a villa,” the voice continued, as pictures of the officers’ living options appeared on screen.

“The Negev offers a young, pleasurable social life, academic studies and lots of freedom ... all the possibilities are open to you – daily travel, renting an apartment or moving to the Negev.”

All of the conference participants received a book entitled “My Negev,” which contains images of southern Israel, as well as a special booklet explaining the benefits they could receive as career officers moving southward.

“I don’t feel comfortable in that I’m explaining the conditions and saying, ‘Come down here,’ because that’s only part of it,” said Maj. Gen. Barbivai, adding, “Career officers don’t stay in [the army] for the salary, but because they see themselves as part of the effort to defend the country.”

The list of benefits for career officers choosing to move south includes preferential treatment from the military housing authority (which would also give them preference over career combat soldiers as well). Officers making the move would be upgraded to operational activity level B (combat soldiers are A), which means an additional few hundred shekels salary per month.

Career officers would also receive a two-year rent subsidy, or assistance with paying a mortgage, totaling 1000 shekels ($286) per month in Be’er Sheva, Dimona, Ofakim or Arad.

Benefits also include a subsidy for land development for purchasing apartments, as well as additional rent subsidies based on marital status, assistance for spouses in finding jobs, and also a one-time grant of 1000 shekels to assist in moving down south as well as installing air conditioning, decorating, and other needs.

In 2010, the government decided to subsidize the costs for career officers in the wake of moving large IDF bases to the Negev. To that end, 21.7 million shekels – half of the budget for the Negev development ministry – was earmarked for the IDF development project.

It was also decided to allot 4.8 million shekels from the Negev and Galilee development ministry budget toward rent assistance or mortgage payments in five towns in the Negev.

One slideshow at the event displayed all the savings that can be achieved by purchasing an apartment through the IDF program: a 60,000 shekel grant for purchasing the land; 40,000-50,000 shekels to help with administration costs; and another 20,000-30,000 shekels in mortgage payment assistance.

According to one high-ranking IDF officer, the benefits are not particularly attractive, and most of them are part of government decisions that were made before the actual move south.

Maj. Gen. Kobi Barak, head of the IDF’s technological and logistics directorate, warned that career officers should not charge off in pursuit of benefits. “Despite everything presented to you here, we must not get confused,” he said. “We’re serving in the army. They send us where we’re needed. Let’s say there were no benefits; we would go where they send us anyway. As an IDF commander, I’ll say this: ‘The IDF goes where it’s needed.’ We must not let the tail wag the dog.”

Despite all the outlined benefits, many career officers are not happy about relocating to the south. Maj. Moshe Castro, head of educational development at the IDF ordnance school, says that at age 40, he does not want to relocate to the Negev as he is close to army retirement age and doesn’t know what the future holds.

“I don’t think that at this point I’ll uproot my whole family,” he admits. “At first, I intend to drive an hour and 15 minutes from Gan Yavneh to the base,” says Castro. He adds that many people serving on his base didn’t believe the project would ever get off the ground, and only about 20% of them decided to relocate to the Negev.

“There are another 40% deliberating, and the rest still say they’ll never move south. Spouses are a serious issue,” adds Castro.

Previous IDF studies revealed that a large portion of career officers are not interested in moving to serve in the south, and the IDF personnel directorate is particularly concerned over what will become of the technological units following the move. In those fields, many career officers can easily find jobs in the civilian sector, with higher salaries. The IDF personnel directorate is worried that such officers will choose to remain in central Israel, leaving the IDF in order to do so.

Although educational bases will begin moving south later this year, most of the conference centered around the communications directorate – which will move south in 2018 – and the intelligence technology units, which will make the move in 2019.

“It’s a process, and at the moment I don’t see a rush toward the south,” Maj. Gen. Barak told Haaretz after the event. “We’re not forcing it on anyone, but I believe there will [eventually] be a massive wave of movement south. We’re really trying to bring our career officers down there.”

Tel Arad, in southern Israel. Not the middle of nowhere for soldiers, but next to it.Credit: Moshe Gilad

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