To outsiders, the Negev Desert may look barren and inhospitable. But to the Israel Defense Forces, the Negev is vital for the defense of the state.
Israel's map size in scaled comparison. (Source: AIPAC)
Let’s look into why that is.
The Negev covers more than half of Israel’s total land area — roughly 13,000 square km (4,700 sq mi) — but is home to only a small percentage of Israel’s civilian population.
The Negev Desert is over half the size of Israel, 70% of which is IDF (Zahal) training zones
In a country as small as Israel, any open space is precious. The Negev is home to numerous IDF (Zahal) training bases and firing zones. In fact, 70% of the Negev is IDF (Zahal) training areas.
1) Less crowded. While fighter pilots in larger countries can easily train in their own airspace without worrying about crossing any borders, Israeli pilots do not have that luxury. When flying at twice the speed of sound, Israeli fighter pilots run out of space quickly. The only place in Israel where pilots have even a small amount of open space to train is the Negev.
IDF (Zahal) Pilots Fly Over Israel's Negev Desert
2) The past. The Negev has been crucial to Israel’s security since the 1948 War of Independence, when it was first infiltrated by the Egyptians. As David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, said: “The Negev is the place where the Jewish people will be tested.”
3) The present. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thinks so nowadays as well:
“The value of the land is enormous… We [Israelis] are very concentrated in the center of the country, therefore, we must decentralize our national life in all main areas, with the IDF (Zahal) and security first and foremost.”
In fact, the IDF (Zahal) is doing just that. These days, the army is moving its training bases from the center of the country and relocating them all to one huge site in the northern Negev.
4) Smart investments. As a result of the IDF (Zahal)’s move, large amounts of valuable territory in the center of the country will be returned to the state, and also there will be more development and job creation in southern Israel. The project, called “Bahad City” (“Training Base City”), is one of the most ambitious projects that the IDF (Zahal) has conducted in the past decade.
5) Zionism. Ben-Gurion dream’s was to make the Negev bloom. He also understood the importance of the Negev to Israel’s security. Following his retirement from politics in 1970, Ben-Gurion moved to Kibbutz Sde Boker, in the heart of the Negev. Upon his death in 1973, Negev University was renamed in his honor. His own words:
“The state of Israel, to exist, must go south.”
The construction of the Negev bases is already underway
If you found this post interesting, you can check out news about the Southern Command or the IDF (Zahal) website.