* New bases to include central intelligence campus
* Foreign firms approached to build the facilities
* Migration to free up $14 billion of prime real estate
By Ari Rabinovitch
TEL AVIV, March 18 Israel's military plans to
vacate land worth $14 billion and move most of its headquarters
from the heart of Tel Aviv in a $7 billion project intended to
alleviate an acute national shortage of room for housing.
The Bank of Israel, concerned by surging housing prices, has
called on the government, which controls about 93 percent of
land in Israel, to free up more of it to meet demand.
The Israel Defence Forces headquarters, known as the Kirya,
or campus in Hebrew, sits on 47 actress (19 hectares) in central
Tel Aviv, complete with rooftop helicopter pad, a city landmark.
The sprawling Tel Hashomer base, where every conscript is
inducted, is among a dozen other bases nearby taking up precious
space in what are now swank residential and business districts.
In what will be one of Israel's biggest infrastructure
projects, the Kirya will be slimmed down and the other compounds
will be to moved to new mega-bases, mostly in the south.
Tel Aviv's small seaside Sde Dov airport, used for military
and domestic commercial flights, will also be removed by 2018 to
free up land for thousands of apartments along the coast.
For the military, the migration offers benefits too, not
least a $3 billion central intelligence campus, according to
Lieutenant Colonel Peleg Zeevi, who is spearheading the tender
process for the Defence Ministry,
In all about 30,000 soldiers, officers and their families
will need to move to Beersheba and surrounding areas in the
Negev desert, which makes up two-thirds of Israel's land.
Government investment in housing, cultural centres and
infrastructure in the Beersheba region will inject some $1.6
billion a year into the local economy, Zeevi told Reuters.
The first installations to be built will be a $500 million
training campus and a $400 million data centre.
"This is an opportunity for the military to improve
infrastructure, make organisational changes and in general
become more efficient," Zeevi said. "We are talking about a data
centre 10 times bigger than any other built in Israel and
logistics centres unlike any seen here before."
The ministry has been in contact with some of the world's
biggest technology companies to enter into private-public
partnerships to implement the projects over the next decade.
"We need a player that has the knowledge, ability and
experience," Zeevi said.
Israel has already been approached by potential bidders,
including IBM, CISCO and data storage equipment
maker EMC Corp, an Israeli official said.
Citigroup and Morgan Stanley have shown
interest in financing the projects, the official said.
Trusting a foreign firm with the country's top military
secrets is a challenge, but one Israel says it can overcome.
"We are aware of the security issues that arise in deals
with foreign firms, but because we want real competition and
expertise, we will create conditions that will allow and
encourage their participation," Zeevi said.
(Editing by Alistair Lyon)