The Israel Air Force has been quietly transforming its Nevatim base, a standard air force installation in southern Israel, into a Middle East wonder of the military world.
It's located only a few miles away from my house, so we will have the benefit of hearing every last takeoff and arrival of every last military aircraft in the south. At one time, it was the "secret" air base that everyone knew about. All you had to do was ask any Israeli for directions to the site.
The plan now is to expand and upgrade the base into a massive complex designed to house various operational buildings, as well as thousands of IAF personnel. It's well underway, with construction of the new base almost complete.
But the real centerpiece of the improved Negev-based IAF complex is its new landing strip, a whopping 2.5-mile (over four kilometers) paved highway on which the largest transport aircraft can land. Think "Hercules" and "Boeing 707" flying personnel carriers. It will be the largest landing strip in the entire Middle East.
The development is part of a master plan by the IDF to move the majority of IAF bases south to the Negev, said Colonel Tzvi Tweezer, administrator of the Nevatim base. “The transfer of the Air Force to the south is part of a great plan being put into action by the IDF,” he wrote in an article posted on the IAF website. “This particular stage is paramount to the success of that greater plan, which includes the upcoming ‘training base city’ project.” Tweezer added that the expanded base would also provide jobs for hundreds of people in a region which is known for its lower-than-average salaries and high unemployment.
The article also pointed out that such a mammoth operation requires development of improved infrastructuresin the area: "This will include constructing transportation systems, education facilities, places of employment and housing. As part of the improvement of the infrastructure in the region, a train station will be built at the gates of the base… vital roads will be built ahead of schedule by the IAF, and a gas-powered electricity station will be built to produce energy for the region."
The amount of asphalt used to pave the new landing strip was about the same amount used to pave a 56-mile-long two-lane highway.
The base is expected to stretch across an area equivalent to the total size of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, and will include a new air traffic control tower, underground hangars and housing for at least 2,000 soldiers. Some 900 workers were hired to build the new base, with more than half of them local Negev residents. The project, which also involved relocation of IDF training units, Intelligence Corps and Teleprocessing Units, is expected to cost a total of approximately $658 million.
The new Nevatim base is scheduled to make its debut by 2009.
This article appeared in the February 18, 2008 edition of IsraelNationalNews.com