The initial plan was to establish the base in the Sinai dessert, but following consolidation of a peace treaty with Egypt, it was instead built in the Negev. Rafael Eitan, then Chief of Staff, chose a site near Arad. In 1979 the Commanders' Forum decided on the name "Nevatim", a biblical name.
In 1982 the "Negev" squadron was introduced on the base, alongside maintenance, flying and management squadrons. In April 1985 the work was completed; the base's first squadrons had been absorbed and the necessary infrastructure was in place. On 17th July 1985 the Combat Advanced Operational Training course moved to the "Flying Wing" Squadron, following the "Golden Eagle" Squadron's switch to flying the F-16A/B.
In 1991 the Operational Training Course was split for the first time and until 1994 alternated between the wing's two Skyhawk squadrons the “Flying Dragon” Squadron and the “Flying Wing” Squadron. During the First Gulf War, F-15 and F-16 aircraft from various squadrons were deployed in the base and took part in interception readiness flights.
During Operation "Accountability", the base's Skyhawk squadron flew 72 sorties, carrying out air strikes and distributing flares. During Operation "Grapes of Wrath" it flew more than 100 attack sorties. In order to prevent IDF casualties during the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the IAF displayed its presence in the skies of Lebanon and carried out a number of strikes. Throughout the withdrawal, the "Flying Wing" Squadron carried out aerial barricade operations and strikes on Hizbalah targets.
In light of the arrival of the F-16I, the decision was taken in May 2001 that the "Flying Wing" squadron would cease to operate the Skyhawk and would instead receive the F-16A/B from the "Negev" Squadron, allowing the "Negev" Squadron to begin preparations to receive the new F-16I that would reach Israel in September 2003.
With the beginning of its F-16 era the "Flying Wing" Squadron was renamed "The Defenders of the South". In parallel, the "Golden Eagle" squadron moved its F-16Bs from Ramon to Nevatim. In a 2002 workshop entitled "The Air Force in the Year 2020", the closure of the IAF base in Lod and the transfer of its personnel and equipment to Nevatim, was first raised. In April 2005 work was started on additional infrastructure for the base.
In April 2008 a new runway, the longest in the Middle East, was opened on the base. On 25th August 2008 the "International", "Nachshon", "Elephants" and "Knights of the Orange Tail" Squadrons moved from their headquarters in Lod to their new home on Nevatim.
As part of the cooperation agreements between the Israeli, American and Turkish air forces, Nevatim airbase serves as a strategic base for hosting teams and aircraft from abroad that are deployed in Israel for exercises. The base houses the two double-seater F-16 squadrons which carry out air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.
The "Golden Eagle" Squadron is responsible for the six month long Operational Training Course (OTC) attended by pilots straight out of pilot training who learn the fundamentals of F-16 aerial combat. The squadron has an F-16B training center, including a simulator from Elbit, intended both for pilots and those on the OTC. During the Advanced OTC carried out in the "Golden Eagle" Squadron, the students first begin to learn techniques connected to specific operational scenarios. Furthermore, the squadron trains to deal with "aerial terror" and acts as the Air Force's knowledge center on this subject.
The Transport Squadrons and Lod Airbase
In 1936 the British inaugurated the runway at Lod. During the Independence War it was conquered as part of Operation "Danny". The "Elephants" squadron, one of the IAF's first four squadrons, operated at that time from Ramat David Airbase and was based on English-speaking volunteers. The squadron's Dakota aircraft carried out delivery operations to besieged settlements and bombing operations. In the early fifties the squadron moved to Tel Nof Airbase and began to operate the Catalina amphibious aircraft and the Flying Fortress bomber. At that time the squadron readied itself for flare dispersal, sea rescue, patrol, radio relay and casualty evacuation missions.
In 1956 the squadron airdropped paratroopers above the Sinai Peninsula as part of the Sinai Campaign, using Nord aircraft, absorbed a year earlier. In 1963 the Stratocruisers formed a body on Lod airbase that went on to become the "International" Squadron. With the arrival of the Stratocruiser the need for professionals trained to balance the aircraft's loads became apparent. Within the squadron a group of “loading inspectors” was established, which 12 years later became an independent unit. At that time the role of aircraft engineer was developed.
During the Six Day War, the "Elephant" Squadron transported supplies and soldiers, airdropped fuel, and carried out sea patrols and radio relay missions. Following the lessons learnt during the war, the Communications Regiment was established to aid in communication between all of the territory held by Israel whilst at war. Similarly, the Electronic Warfare unit was established. During the War of Attrition, the squadron evacuated the wounded from the area of the Suez Canal.
In 1971 the "Dakota" Squadron split off from the "International" Squadron following the acquisition of additional Dakotas and Stratocruisers. During the Yom Kippur War, 12 American Hercules aircraft were delivered, to join the pair of Hercules already operated by the "International" Squadron, forming the "Yellow Bird" Squadron. They immediately began to transport APCs, personnel and equipment to Sinai and to evacuate the wounded.
One of the lessons of the war was the need for an Air Force collections unit to operate Intelligence systems. As a result the ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) unit was established.
In 1974 the "Elephants" squadron moved to Lod as part of a move to focus transport squadrons on that base. In 1975 a unit was established that was responsible for preparations on the ground for Hercules deployments.
In 1976 the Nord saw the end of its service in the IAF, and the Hercules participated in the "Thunder Ball" operation, a.k.a "Entebbe" Operation in Uganda to free passengers taken hostage during an Air -France flight.
In 1983 IAF received the IAI Arava in the "Dakota" squadron. Three years later the force participated in the Air Mobility Rodeo, alongside competitors from around the world.
In 1991 the Hercules and Boeing 707 brought around 1500 Ethiopian olim (Jewish immigrants to Israel) from Ethiopia as part of Operation "Shlomo", in conjunction with El Al.
In 2001 the Dakota completed its service, and the "Dakota" squadron prepared to receive the Gulfstream V, taking its Hebrew name "Nachshon" as the name of the squadron. Two years later the IAF stopped flying the Arava. In 2002 the "Karina A" weapons ship was captured, after it was tracked by a Sea Scan aircraft. In 2006 the Gulfstream V arrived and was used for control and intelligence purposes.
Since the eighties the transport units have participated in numerous foreign aid missions. Beneficiaries included Kurdish refugees fleeing to Turkey during the First Gulf War, victims of the earthquake in Turkey in 1999 and evacuation of tourists wounded in the Al-Qaeda attack in Mombassa, Kenya.