Israel’s government on Sunday approved a plan to move key military installations to the Negev desert, in a bid to boost development in its arid south and free up valuable land in the centre.
“Not to exaggerate its importance, but it brings to fruition a longstanding vision of moving IDF (Israel Defence Forces) command centres to the Negev,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as he opened a cabinet meeting.
Netanyahu said the move would provide “strong momentum to the development of the Negev, assisted by the thousands of quality people who will go there, affecting industry, construction, culture in all its aspects.”
His office said the relocation of the intelligence corps and various communications units would be at the thrust of the initiative.
The project is expected to take at least seven years, with a 2018 deadline, and will cost approximately 19 billion shekels ($5.5 billion, 3.85 billion euros).
The government hopes around a quarter of the cost will be covered by profits the state will make by selling prime real estate in central Israel that is currently used by the military.
“The value of the land is enormous,” Netanyahu said, adding that the move would also help to decentralise the security structure and strengthen Israel’s periphery.
“We are very concentrated in the centre of the country, therefore, we must decentralise our national life in all main areas, with the IDF and security first and foremost,” he said.
Israel’s government first approved a plan to move IDF units to the Negev in 2005, but the project ran aground amid a dispute between ministries over financing for the relocation of the intelligence and communication units.