Construction in the Sinai

As the final negotiations which would eventually lead to the establishment of the MFO were taking place, survey teams visited the Sinai Peninsula to determine the best sites for the new organization's installations.


The survey teams' investigations resulted in the selection of Israel's Eitam Air Base for the MFO's North Camp and original Sinai Headquarters, and Sharm el Sheikh at the southern tip of the Sinai for the South Camp and port facility for the naval coastal patrol unit. Various other sites were selected for checkpoints (CPs), and observation posts (OPs), throughout Zone C. Shortly after the signing of the Protocol, the MFO opened an office in Tel Aviv, the closest major city to the selected sites in the Sinai, to coordinate the construction and rehabilitation projects.

As time was short, all construction was done by what is known in construction circles as the "fast track" method. A system based on modern planning and projection techniques, this method permits designing, procurement and construction to proceed simultaneously. 

To ensure access to the best available expertise on the "fast track" construction of military facilities, the Director General signed an agreement on August 31, 1981, designating the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as the MFO's construction agent. The Corps of Engineers then established, as its field operating agency for overall construction management, the Sinai Construction Management Office, based in Tel Aviv, under the command of Colonel William E. Lee.


On September 2, 1981, the Corps of Engineers entered into a contract with Facility and Support Team, Inc. (FAST), a joint venture of three companies: Harbert International, Inc., the Paul N. Howard Co., and Louis Berger International. Like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FAST had considerable experience in the region. They also had another important resource that was to prove of inestimable value to the project: a well-trained and reliable corps of construction workers from Thailand. FAST also established its headquarters in Tel Aviv.


The construction project was to be complete by mid-March, 1982, for the arrival of the troops in the Sinai. It was decided that priority would be given to the essential elements, and construction of the less urgent facilities would begin after deployment.


The task of building and renovating at North Camp to house some 2,000 people was complicated by the fact that it had to be carried out on an active Israeli military base which, under the withdrawal terms, was being dismantled. Construction had to proceed against a background of demolition, military security regulations and some of the most dramatic political events in the recent history of the Sinai surrounding the removal of Israeli settlements. As a result, the construction effort at the North Camp did not get into full swing until the end of December, 1981.


The location of South Camp was completely undeveloped and required all new construction to house and support approximately 1,200 troops and support personnel. By the beginning of November 1981, construction had begun with the start of excavation work. The foundation pads for the barracks and bathhouses were completed by mid-January and delivery of those structures began at the end of January. The pace was hectic and Israeli and Thai laborers worked a minimum of six ten-hour days per week while encountering serious electrical power and fresh water supply problems. The arrival of the troops in the Sinai in mid-March found both camps ready to provide basic life support functions. Where facilities were incomplete, temporary arrangements were made, as in the case of the field kitchen at South Camp which was used until the permanent dining facility was ready. Construction continued in the Sinai after the arrival of the troops and was completed on August 31, 1982.


Considering the changing scope of work and the remote and harsh conditions, the construction project was completed in a remarkably short period of time. Local building techniques, and locally manufactured products, such as solar panels for heating water, helped reduce costs. The innovative idea of using a road treatment chemical known as Dead Sea Liquid, actually the brine residue of the desalination plant at Eilat, which forms a crust on the roads and produces a smooth, nearly dust free surface, proved to be ideal for the original Main Supply Route, a 400 kilometer, largely unpaved road between North and South Camp. (The Main Supply Route was shifted to a new, all paved highway link through Zone B in 1990).


The total cost of the project was slightly more than $93 million, which was approximately $11 million under the original estimate.