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The Pioneers Release date 02.10.2018
What does it feel like when one has to leave his home and populate a desert wasteland? IAF service members answer questions and bring up memories
Carmel Stern & Carmel Lahad

Takeoffs, landings, scrambles and sirens are just part of the daily routine at the IAF's four southern airbases: Uvda, Ramon, Hatzerim and Nevatim. However, these bases weren't always there. "In the beginning, the IAF relied on British infrastructure and northern and central Israel", said Maj. Gen. (Res') Ido Nehoshtan, former Commander of the IAF. "The Negev is the largest, least populated area in Israel. As a result, it was natural for us to make it the IAF's center of gravity".


Photography: Celia Garion

Relocating
The relocation of the IDF and the IAF to southern Israel provided solutions to national, logistical and operational needs - clearing areas in central Israel, improving infrastructure and populating the wasteland were a part of the decision. Hatzerim AFB was the first to be established in southern Israel. It was also the first airbase built from the ground up by the IAF in 1966 and wasn't established on the foundations of previous British AFBs.


Archive Photo

After the 1967 Six Day War, nine IAF airbases were established in the Sinai Peninsula, among which were Eitam and Etzion. These were evicted following the peace treaty with Egypt and the Camp David Accords in 1979, which marked a turning point in the presence of the IDF and the IAF in the Negev.

The Americans established two new bases as replacements according to the peace treaty's conditions: Ramon AFB (which replaced Eitam AFB) and Uvda AFB (which replaced Etzion AFB). The airbases were officially integrated by the IAF in 1982, and a year later Nevatim AFB was established. A significant turn occurred in 2008, when Lod AFB was relocated to the south and conjoined with Nevatim.


Archive Photo

"I acted as a squadron commander during two wars and the mission of relocating Etzion was just as difficult. Every detail had to be taken into consideration, from equipment transportation, through operational preparedness and to finding schools and workplaces for the service members' families", recalled Brig. Gen. (Res') Menachem Sharon, Commander of Uvda AFB during the relocation.

Beyond Expectations
"Throughout the years, the IAF has put its most advanced aircraft in the southern airbases. From the 'Netz' (F-16A/B) in Ramon, through the 'Peten' (Apache) and 'Saraf' (Apache Longbow) helicopters, 'Sufa' (F-16I) and 'Ra'am' (F-15I) fighter jets in Ramon and Hatzerim, and to the 'Adir' (F-35I) aircraft in Nevatim", explained Maj. Gen. (Res') Nehoshtan. "Integrating a new aircraft is an improvement for the airbase, and integrating the newest aircraft brings the most professional service members along with it".


Photography: Celia Garion

"Israel's government has decided to move its center of gravity to the Negev and the IAF has joined the effort", said Maj. Gen. (Res') Nehoshtan. "Israel has put a lot of efforts into implementing high tech and industries in the Negev. One of the country's main tools is the IDF's various units, which assist in the process of relocation to the south. This is also true for the air force".


Nevatim AFB's establishment ceremony | Archive Photo

Brig. Gen. (Res') Attias, who served as Commander of Nevatim AFB during its renewed relocation in 2008, concluded: "In 2018, ten years later, I am excited to see how the things we dreamt of happened beyond our expectations".


Photography: Celia Garion