The ecosystems most impacted by repeated wildfires are also in military firing zones, Israel’s latest annual State of Nature report finds

Nir Hasson Jul 7, 2022

A fire burns in Moshav Azrikam, in central Israel in 2016.
A fire burns in Moshav Azrikam, in central Israel in 2016.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Almost 40 percent of the wilderness areas ravaged by brush fires in the past six years in Israel are firing zones under military management, according to the latest annual State of Nature report.

Additionally, the report shows that the ecosystems most impacted by repeated wildfires are also in Israel Defense Forces firing zones. Other causes of wildfires are negligence by farmers and hikers, fires spreading across the border from Syrian or Jordanian territory, and incendiary balloons in the area next to the Gaza Strip.

According to the report, some 500 square kilometers, which constitute some 15 percent of all natural and forest land in Israel, have been burned at least once in the past six years. Of these, 193 kilometers are wilderness areas within firing zones; these are also the ones harmed repeatedly by wildfires. Usually the fires break out due to the discharge of firearms in training, with the areas most prone to fires being those in the training areas of the Central Command in the Lachish area and the firing zones in the Golan Heights.

The report was authored by HaMaarag, an organization that analyzes the state of nature in Israel, operated jointly by Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, Tel Aviv University, the Jewish National Fund and the Environmental Protection Ministry, and is based on remote sensing methods, satellite imagery mapping the burned areas, and reports of Nature and Parks Authority inspectors.

In an attempt to reduce wildfires in its training grounds, the organization Nature Defense Force, operated jointly by the IDF and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, has been carrying out a designated plan to combat the problem, with some success.


The plan began in the Lachish area, where it resulted in a significant reduction in the frequency and scope of wildfires, and over the past two years it has been implemented in all military training grounds. The program includes stripping the areas around the firing ranges, approval of ammunition used in training according to the season and risk of wildfires breaking out, stopping training in extreme climate conditions, and rapid intervention in case of fire.

“This prevention plan starts from the assumption that fires will happen and that training can’t be avoided,” says Guy Sali, director of the Nature Defense Force initiative. “But I define the area I want to protect and act to prevent conflagration. If fire still breaks out, I isolate the area and manage the scene. The manual was written on the go.”

However, sources familiar with the subject say that the stripping actions, carried out with heavy machinery, proactive brush burning or the spraying of herbicides, may actually cause significant ecological damage, often no less damaging than the fire.

“The wildfires are far worse than the prevention measures,” Sali insists. “In the end, prevention is pinpoint action intended to isolate the firing ranges from the forest or brush nearby.”

The negligence of farmers and hikers is another cause of wildfires, such as the one that erupted Monday near Moshav Beit Uziel. The fire, that quickly spread toward the important Tel Gezer archeological site, was apparently caused by a farmer burning trimmed foliage.

Rising frequency

Wildfire frequency has been rising constantly in Israel over the past decades. The report lists three main reasons. The first is the expansion of human activity in wilderness areas – from segmenting them in favor of roads or new localities, to farming, military, or leisure activity. In Israel, which does not have lightning storms in the summer, wildfires do not happen spontaneously. They are all man-made – whether due to negligence or malice.

A picture showing the aftermath of a fire in Tel Gezer, on Monday.
A picture showing the aftermath of a fire in Tel Gezer, on Monday.Credit: Mark Avraham

The second reason is forestation and reduction of grazing, which increases the amount of combustible matter in wilderness areas.

Among the prevalent forms of flora, the most flammable are the shrub steppes – a quarter of the total area they cover has been burned over the past six years. In contrast, only three percent of Mediterranean grove areas, typified by trees such as oak and terebinth, and 9 percent of the JNF’s planted pine forests have been ravaged by fire.

Climate change

The third reason for the increasing frequency of wildfires in Israel is climate change. Longer dry periods and increased and hot sharav conditions dry out the flora, making it more flammable. This is compounded by an increase in the number of days marked by dangerous fire-spreading conditions, namely a combination of severe dryness and easterly winds. That is what occurred during the deadly 2010 Carmel fire as well as the series of wildfires in 2016. This trend is felt in most Mediterranean countries.

In response, an IDF spokesperson said “The IDF acts extensively to prevent wildfires in all its spheres of operation, studies and analyzes the data to formulate future responses. Risk management and post-op analysis following wildfire incidents take place regularly. Means are acquired, instructions are written, training is held and preventative measures are taken as appropriate.”

“The IDF acts in tight coordination with the National Firefighting and Rescue Authority, the Nature and Parks Authority, and other partners to increase fire safety and prevent fires,” the spokesperson said.