Construction firm Shikun & Binui on Monday won a massive Defense Ministry contract worth billions of shekels to build and maintain a large Military Intelligence complex outside Beersheba as part of the Israel Defense Forces’ broad move of bases and personnel to southern Israel.
The proposed transplanting of Military Intelligence units to the Negev Desert from their current plush confines in central Israel met fierce opposition within the IDF, as the top brass fears intelligence officers may leave the military for better-paying civilian jobs instead of making the move. The plan has also met logistical issues related to inadequate public transportation.
In light of the pushback within the IDF, the plan to move the Military Intelligence bases to the south, which was first approved in 2011, saw numerous delays and allegations of deliberate foot-dragging, leading to a scathing state comptroller report in 2015 and an appeal to the High Court of Justice by a Negev activist group last month.
The proposed complex would bring into one large base a number of intelligence units that are currently scattered throughout central Israel, where they take up expensive, desirable real estate.
The 2,500-dunam (620-acre) base is meant to house some 12,000 soldiers, including roughly 5,000 career officers and non-commissioned officers.
On Monday, the Defense Ministry announced that it had picked the Shikun & Binui construction firm to “finance, plan, build, operate and maintain” the site for the next 26 years.
The exact value of the tender was not released, but is estimated to be worth several billion shekels. Shikun & Binui beat out two other firms for the contract: Electra-Minrav, which built the IDF’s massive “city of training bases” in southern Israel, and Shapir Engineering and Industry Inc., which recently won a Defense Ministry contract to build a massive logistics center for the IDF.
Shikun & Binui, one of Israel’s largest and oldest construction firms, has built many of the country’s best known buildings: the Knesset, the Israel Museum, the Defense Ministry headquarters and a number of courthouses.
In place of a more traditional direct funding method, the complex will be built through what’s known as a private finance initiative, in which a private company raises the initial money to construct the project and is then paid back for it annually by the government over the course of the contract.
According to the ministry, Shikun & Binui has until the end of next year to secure the financing needed to build the intelligence base and to complete the planning stage before beginning actual construction.
The ministry said it intends to have the majority of the military’s intelligence units based in the complex by 2026.
In addition to freeing up valuable land in central Israel, the government believes that opening a large military base in the Negev Desert will stimulate the local economy. From an ideological standpoint, the move is also meant to be in line with the vision of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who famously urged his countrymen to “make the desert bloom.”
The plan is part of a larger effort, which is currently underway, to move the majority of the IDF’s operations out of Tel Aviv and its environs in order to free up land that real estate experts believe is worth tens of billions of dollars and to help tackle the ongoing housing crisis in the country’s center.
“This move will bring the best technological minds of the IDF to the Negev, who will represent a base for societal-military-academic cooperation and will strengthen the Beersheba metropolitan area into a new technological hub for Israel, with an emphasis on the cyber realm,” the Defense Ministry said Monday.
“Creating the Military Intelligence complex in the Negev will lead to the economic development of the area, with hundreds of new workers being employed directly by the intelligence complex, and thousands of additional jobs that will represent a widespread employment opportunity,” the ministry said.
In addition to the benefits to the surrounding area, the ministry said the new base would also give the Military Intelligence Directorate improved infrastructure and would allow the different units based there to work together better, “and in this way to strengthen the technological and intelligence capabilities of the IDF against developing challenges.”
Last week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited the proposed site of the Military Intelligence complex in Likit, outside Beersheba, stressing his dedication to advancing the move.
“I and all of the defense establishment see the Negev as the right place in which to develop. It is the place where we will have the best, most important and highest quality technological facility in order to create a stronger and more leading intelligence branch [of the military]. This is the main reason for moving the Military Intelligence Directorate to the Negev,” he said.
At the same time, Gantz said he recognized the lingering technical issues hindering the move.
“We are getting together all of the groups in the government in order to give a social and infrastructural envelope — first and foremost a reasonable solution for public transportation, as well as support and advancement for the people who come here as part of the national security effort,” he said.