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Israeli air base in the Negev
photo by Rhonda Spivak, 2009

Putting Missile on plane
photo by Rhonda Spivak, 2009

My son Dov with Israeli Air force soldiers , Aug 2009
photo by Rhonda Spivak

My son checks out one of the planes
photo by Rhonda Spivak, 2009

Editor's Report: What if Ben-Gurion airport was struck?

November 6, 2013

In the summer of 2006, while in Israel during the war in Lebanon, I learned from a military source that one of the concerns Israel had was that if there ever were a long-range missile that struck Ben-Gurion Airport, there was no other airstrip in the country that could properly function as a civilian airport. It's a piece of information I have never forgotten.
In  2009 I had an unusual opportunity to visit an Israeli air force (IAF) base in the Negev dessert whose name and location I cannot disclose.

The Negev desert, especially in its the southern portion, is largely uninhabited, but  not at all “wasted” space;  the area is mostly used for exercises by the army and air force. The area has several top-secret installations, and civilian air traffic is generally banned from the area.
At the base, a senior pilot told me that the IAF transport base was being moved from Lod (alongside Ben-Gurion Airport) to a new base, Netavim, in the Negev, just east of Be'ersheva, on the edge of a closed zone. The IAF transport wing in Lod was the launching site of historic missions by Israel, such as the 1976 raid on Entebbe, Uganda, and the 1991 Operation Solomon that airlifted some 14,500 Ethiopian Jews out of Ethiopia to Israel within 36 hours.

According to the senior pilot, one reason for moving the IAF transport wing was that, at Lod, the IAF had to share airspace with passenger planes landing at Ben-Gurion Airport, which was causing complications. A move to the Negev would decrease the chances of air accidents and eliminates the friction between civil and military aviation over use of air space.

"The new base in Netavim will be the largest air force base in the Middle East [with a four-kilometre runway]. Netavim gives the transport fleet better infrastructure, deployment and operational flexibility," the pilot said in 2009.
"The new Netavim base is large enough that passenger flights could be re-routed to Netavim, if ever necessary," the senior pilot said.

The decision to move the IAF base to the south was initially made in 2002, as part of a multi-year plan to help settle the under-populated Negev. As one reserve pilot in his army green uniform said, "The idea behind putting the base here is that military families will move to the south to live closer to the base."

During my visit to this Israel air force base, I was able to see fighter pilots take off and land F-16 planes. I was shown Israeli-developed missiles that have EO\GPS guided guidance kits for converting air-droppable, unguided bombs into precision guided bombs. "A device is put on the plane that sends out lasers to guide the bomb," a young, blue-eyed fighter pilot explained.

Next, I was shown JDAM missiles and GBU-12 missiles and, when I asked for explanations of how they all worked, he smiled and said, "It will be easiest if you just look it up on the Internet."
Since 2009, there has  been discussion that the  airport at Netavim air base would be converted to a new second  civilian international airport for Israel . But according to reports as late as 2012, the Israel Defense Forces have been opposed to  converting the Netavim air base into a new international airport, because of security concerns.  But because the base is too close to areas where the IDF conducts land and air exercises,  the IDF has said it  would be better to establish the airport elsewhere. 
 The IDF has agreed that Israel's civilian air traffic needs more facilities, but Nevatim doesn't provide the answer. Other options are that Ben Gurion Airport could be expanded, or the airport could be established at Megiddo, in northern Israel (but environmentalist  and the nearby local population have raised objections.) Another idea is to  build an airport on an artificial island off Tel Aviv –  but so far this has been  rejected because of environmental concerns and cost.
In the meantime, Israeli government in 2011  approved the Ramon International Airport  with the aim of replacing Eilat's current airport -- which is located in the center of the popular tourist destination -- as well as the Ovda airport in the Negev desert nearby. In fact, construction on Ramon International Airport, which is located northeast of Eilat, already began started six months ago.
However, Jordan has rejected the Israeli plan to build  the Ramon International Airport in Eilat, citing safety concerns over its proximity to King Hussein airport over the border in the Jordanian town of  Aquaba, across from Eilat .
According to  Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, senior Israeli defense officials are worried that the lack of Jordanian cooperation over issues of airspace and security will make the new airport a target for terror attacks.  Some in Israel also think that Jordanian objections are due to a concern that an additional airport in the area would  negatively affect Jordan's tourism industry.
The director of Jordan's civil aviation authority, Mohammad Qaran, was quoted by the Petra news agency in October as saying: "We discovered that the proposed airport does not meet international standards for airports constructed in close proximity. We informed Israel about our decision and asked them to look for an alternative location."
Israel plans to continue to construct the new Ramon International Airport in Eilat, notwithstanding Jordan's objections.The airport is to be named after Israel's first astronaut Ilan Ramon, who was killed in the Columbia space shuttle disaster, and his son Assaf, an Israeli fighter pilot killed in 2009 when his aircraft crashed in Israel.
Editor's note: If you found this article interesting , you will want to watch this  two minute video prepared by Sderot Media Centre that examines the very issue of what would happen if a Qassam rocket fired at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport:
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.