The IDF's Zikim Military Base, a basic training facility located in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip, marked the end of its instructional activities on Wednesday.
Ynet first reported on the military's intent to remove all new recruits from Zikim in June, when Deputy Chief of Staff Major-General Dan Harel announced a new policy, under which new recruits would be assigned to their designated units immediately after being drafted, and those units would be responsible for their basic training.
The new policy called for one of the IDF's basic training facilities to be closed down, and Zikim was subsequently chosen.
An IDF official said at the time that the decision was made regardless of the rocket threat looming over the area, and that the fact that the base itself was hit by Qassam rockets several times, played no part in the decision.
Wednesday's ceremony saw four of the seven company flags usually flying on the base taken down, as many of the soldiers found it hard to contain their emotions. Attending the ceremony were Zikim Base commanders past and present, but the absence of other senior IDF officials was well felt.
Zikim will now house just three companies – only one of which is a "rifleman 02" company – a pan-military basic training unit. The base's staff is also expected to be downsized accordingly; as the three companies remaining will be tasked with all operational duties.
'No reason for melancholy'
The military intended for a new division to take over the base, but has yet to name it: "Unfortunately, this move is clouded by great uncertainties, due to disagreements within the army about the need to reassign the base and the nature of its reassignment," Zikim commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Dror Ben Hur, wrote in a letter distributed to the officers on the base.
Company flags taken down during the ceremony
"The senior commanders of basic training (courses) now face their biggest challenge – to maximize operations until the very end. There is still room for excellence and for investing in the troops, even though we are facing uncertainty.
"You are expected to maintain the soldiers' morale and motivation and try to show your subordinates the chance brought on by this change… ease concerns and boost the feelings of capability, for it is crucial for the success of this move. There is no real reason for melancholy," said the letter.
Military sources, however, told Ynet that assigning the recruits to their designated units was done hastily and with little forethought, for the mere purpose of meeting the plan's original deadline.
Former Zikim company commanders told Ynet that the overall feeling was that the IDF was fleeing the base. "Civilians are dealing with rockets landing in this area everyday," said one officer, "it's only appropriate that the military will have recruits here."
"If this was a legitimate ceremony you would have seen a lot more senior officers here, and probably the media," said another. "I guess the military is ashamed of what's going on."
The Gaza vicinity communities were not too happy with the decision to vacate Zikim either: "Whatever the reason, you have to think about how Hamas is seeing this move," one of the communities' security director told Ynet. "In their eyes it's a victory."