IDF to Offer Grants for Soldiers Who Move to the Negev

Army concerned that many will quit rather than relocate with their elite units, which are being moved to the south.

A Nubian ibex in Mitzpe Ramon.
Eyal Toueg

Amid concerns that many career soldiers will quit the army as key units are redeployed to the Negev, the Israel Defense Forces revealed on Monday it would be offering officers large grants if they agree to move to the region.

Hezi Meshita, of the Southern Relocation Administration, said the army would grant single officers 70,000 shekels ($18,000) on condition they agree to live in the Negev for at least five years. Their transportation costs from 19 places in the center of Israel would be covered until they relocate, he told a meeting of the Knesset Controllers Committee. He said families of officers would be eligible for grants of 200,000 shekels.

“Market forces won’t do the work and so the government has to prepare hundreds of housing units for rent for the transition period while bases are being moved,” he said.

Meshita’s unit is charged with overseeing the massive transfer of key army units from the center of the country to the sparsely populated Negev over the next several years.

Some 30,000 are already serving in newly built facilities in the south and about 30,000 more, including 7,000 career soldiers, will move there is the next few years as training, intelligence and signals corps are transferred there, including the IDF’s famed 8200 intelligence unit.

But many IDF officers have expressed concern that many personnel, especially in technology units like 8200, will opt to leave the army rather than make the move to the Negev. Surveys by the army’s behavioral science unit have found many officers, especially mid-ranking officers, to be hesitant about making the move.

The greater Tel Aviv area where the army’s facilities are now located, offers better schools, shopping, entertainment and culture as well as a big job market while the Negev is relatively underdeveloped. In response, the IDF has conducted informational programs over the past two years as well as offering incentives like study grants, help for spouses in finding jobs and pay increments.

Monday was the first time the army revealed it was also offering one-time grants. “People have been serving as career officers in the same intelligence or signals corps unit for 25 years, so we need to create an envelope [of services and incentives] for them and their families that will encourage them to move to the area of the base,” said Col. Yaron Cohen, of the IDF personnel planning unit.

But Brigadier-General (res.) Yossi Beinhorn, from the State Comptroller’s office, warned of delays in the treasury’s approval of the 19 billion-shekel budget to relocate the intelligence and signals corps units as well as 3.2 billion shekels budgeted for supporting the families of career officers. That has created uncertainty about whether these incentives being offered, he said.