State Comptroller Says Military Not Administering Its Land Properly

In report, Lindenstrauss slams Israel Defense Forces, Defense Ministry for dragging feet over moving bases to Negev

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss released yesterday his annual report on the defense establishment. The sections of the report that were released to the public focus on issues of land, real estate, construction and the environment. Among other issues, the comptroller found a number of serious irregularities in the national project of moving IDF bases to the Negev.

Military bases and training grounds occupy some 8.7 million dunams (approximately 2.2 million acres ), or nearly 39 percent of the territory of the state. A further 8.8 million dunams, nearly 40 percent of the state's territory, fall under various construction and other restrictions due to military needs. Most of these areas are located in the south, but the army also holds many bases in the densely populated center of the country.

Closed army base
Ilan Assayag

The state comptrollers' office spent six months inspecting the management of these lands and the Defense Ministry's and Israel Land Administration's monitoring of the army's use of the land. The comptroller found that in many cases in recent years such monitoring was all but absent, including instances of "fundamental damage to the rules of proper administration."

Lindenstrauss wrote that this was an "ongoing failure that results, first and foremost, in squandering of land resources and public funds, and damage to the public interest."

The report sharply criticizes all three responsible bodies - the military, the defense ministry and the ILA. It notes that even in cases where the IDF did evacuate bases from the center of the country, this was done without appropriate professional supervision, and in many cases left behind vast environmental damage. The training grounds, which alone occupy a third of the county within the Green Line, are also improperly administrated and no one ensures that the army's use of these grounds is effective and allows for civilian use as well.

Lindenstrauss called on the defense establishment and the ministries to speed up the process of evacuating military bases from cities to free up land reserves for civilian construction and development. A senior military source said yesterday that the manner in which state lands are administered by the IDF makes it seem like this is an army with a state, rather than the other way around.

Although he noted a degree of improvement in the army's regard for the environment in recent years, the comptroller said much more serious cooperation is needed between the army and the Environmental Protection Ministry, and that the army has not done enough to remove serious environmental hazards from the bases it already evacuated.

The bulk of the project of moving the IDF bases to the south was decided upon by the cabinet in 2005, and thus far, the army and the defense ministry have completed the transfer of the Air Force's transportation squadrons to the Nevatim air base, significantly expanded for the purpose, and made significant progress in building the "training base city" in the northern Negev. However, the central part of the project, transferring the IDF's intelligence bases to the Negev, is still stuck due to disputes over the funding of the project between the treasury and the Defense Ministry. Meeting the 2015 deadline for the move now appears unlikely.

Lindenstrauss also slammed the administration of the terminals connecting Israel and the West Bank. Transferring their administration to civilian hands, which was supposed to have eased the movement of people and goods through the expanded checkpoints, has itself been moving extremely slowly, and by the middle of last year only a quarter of the terminals were manned by civilians.

The comptroller placed responsibility for the delay on the Prime Minister's Office, the defense and public security ministries, the IDF and the police, noting that they all failed to function properly and did not exchange enough information about at a national project with far-reaching military, political and economic ramifications.

The IDF spokesman said in response that the army has been working to close the gaps on land administration since 2006, and 26 bases were returned to the ILA in 2010 alone. Continuing the relocation has been defined as a top priority. The army also said that as the relocation has enormous implications for the development of the Israeli market socially and economically, it should be supported by budgets external to the existing defense budget. The spokesman added that the ministries were working at fleshing out a strategic plan for the move.

A Defense Ministry spokesperson said that the ministry has been working actively to relocate as many of the IDF bases as possible, and hopes that the comptroller's report will prompt the treasury to allocate the Defense Ministry the resources needed to continue the move. It said the ministry was waiting for the budget needed to transfer the intelligence bases to the south.