Eilat ( ay-LAHT, also ay-LAT; Hebrew: אֵילַת [eˈlat] ()), or Umm Al-Rashrash sometimes in Arabic (أم الرشراش), is Israel's southernmost city with a population of 52,299, a busy port and popular resort at the northern tip of the Red Sea, on what is known in Israel as the Gulf of Eilat and in Jordan as the Gulf of Aqaba. The city is considered a tourist destination for domestic and international tourists heading to Israel.
Eilat is part of the Southern Negev Desert, at the southern end of the Arabah, adjacent to the Egyptian village of Taba to the south, the Jordanian port city of Aqaba to the east, and within sight of Haql, Saudi Arabia, across the gulf to the southeast.
Eilat's arid desert climate and low humidity are moderated by proximity to a warm sea. Temperatures often exceed 40 °C (104 °F) in summer, and 21 °C (70 °F) in winter, while water temperatures range between 20 and 26 °C (68 and 79 °F). Eilat averages 360 sunny days a year.
The name "Eilat" was given to Umm Al-Rashrash (Arabic: أم الرشراش) in 1949 by the . The name refers to Elath, a location mentioned in the Hebrew Bible that is thought to be located across the border in modern Jordan. The committee acknowledged that Biblical Eilat/Elath was across the border; one committee member, Yeshayahu Press, justified the co-opting of the name by stating "when the real Eilat finally is in our hands, our settlement will expand and reach over to there."
The origin of the name is not definitively known, but likely comes from the Hebrew root A–Y–L (Hebrew: א. י. ל.), which is also the root for the word Elah (Hebrew: אלה), meaning Pistacia tree. Like numerous other localities, Eilat is mentioned in the Bible both in singular (possibly construct state) and plural form (Eilot). Elath was an Israelite city that existed in the same general area. The original settlement was probably at the northern tip of the Gulf of Eilat. Ancient Egyptian records also document the extensive and lucrative mining operations and trade across the Red Sea with Egypt starting as early as the Fourth dynasty of Egypt. Elath is mentioned in antiquity as a major trading partner with Elim, Thebes' Red Sea Port, as early as the Twelfth dynasty of Egypt. Trade between Elim and Elath furnished frankincense and myrrh, brought up from Ethiopia and Punt; bitumen and natron, from the Dead Sea; finely woven linen, from Byblos; and copper amulets, from Timna; all mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. In antiquity Elath bordered the states of Edom, Midian and the tribal territory of the Rephidim, the indigenous inhabitants of the Sinai Peninsula. Elath is first mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in the Book of Exodus. The first six stations of the Exodus are in Egypt. The 7th is the crossing of the Red Sea and the 9th–13th are in and around Elath after the exodus from Egypt and crossing the Red Sea. Station 12 refers to a dozen campsites in and around Timna in Modern Israel near Eilat. When King David conquered Edom, which up to then had shared a common border with Midian, he took over Eilat, the border city shared by them as well. The commercial port city and copper based industrial center were maintained by Egypt until reportedly rebuilt by Solomon at a location known as Ezion-Geber (I Kings 9:26). In 2 Kings 14:21–22, many decades later, "All the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king in the room of his father Amaziah. He rebuilt Elath, and restored it to Judah, after his father's death." Later, in 2 Kings 16:6, during the reign of King Ahaz: "At that time the king of Edom recovered Elath for Edom, and drove out the people of Judah and sent Edomites to live there, as they do to this day."
The geology and landscape are varied: igneous and metamorphic rocks, sandstone and limestone; mountains up to 892 metres (2,927 ft) above sea level; broad valleys such as the Arava, and seashore on the Gulf of Aqaba. With an annual average rainfall of 28 millimetres (1.1 in) and summer temperatures of 40 °C (104 °F) and higher, water resources and vegetation are limited. "The main elements that influenced the region's history were the copper resources and other minerals, the ancient international roads that crossed the area, and its geopolitical and strategic position. These resulted in a settlement density that defies the environmental conditions."
Archaeological excavations uncovered impressive prehistoric tombs dating to the 7th millennium BC at the western edge of Eilat, while nearby copper workings and mining operations at Timna Valley are the oldest on earth.
An Islamic copper smelting and trading community of 250–400 residents flourished in the area during the Umayyad Period (700–900 CE); its remains were found and excavated in 1989, at the northern edge of modern Eilat, between what is now the industrial zone and nearby Kibbutz Eilot.
During the British Mandate era, a British police post existed in the area, which was known as Umm Al-Rashrash. The area was designated as part of the Jewish state in the 1947 UN Partition Plan. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the abandoned police post, which consisted of five clay huts, was taken without a fight on March 10, 1949, as part of Operation Uvda. This marked the end of Israel's war for independence. It was formally granted to Israel in the 1949 Armistice Agreements.
The town developed over the following years. Eilat Airport was built in 1949 and individual ships began arriving in the 1950s, but as there were no dedicated port facilities they unloaded their goods at sea. In the early 1950s, Eilat was a small and remote town, populated largely by port workers, soldiers, and former prisoners. The town's development accelerated in 1955, when it had a population of about 500. The Timna Copper Mines near the Timna Valley and the Port of Eilat were opened that year and concerted effort by the Israeli government to populate Eilat began, starting with Jewish immigrant families from Morocco being resettled there. Eilat began to develop rapidly after the Suez Crisis in 1956, with its tourism industry in particular starting to flourish. The town's population grew to 5,300 in 1961. Yoseftal Medical Center and the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline were completed in 1968, and the population increased further, reaching 13,100 in 1972 and 18,900 in 1983.
After the 1948 Arab–Israeli War Arab countries maintained a state of hostility with Israel, blocking all land routes; Israel's access to and trade with the rest of the world was by air and sea alone. Further, Egypt denied passage through the Suez Canal to Israeli-registered ships or to any ship carrying cargo to or from Israeli ports. This made Eilat and its sea port crucial to Israel's communications, commerce and trade with Africa and Asia, and for oil imports. Without recourse to a port on the Red Sea Israel would have been unable to develop its diplomatic, cultural and trade ties beyond the Mediterranean basin and Europe. This happened in 1956 and again in 1967, when Egypt's closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping effectively blockaded the port of Eilat.
In 1956, this led to Israel's participation alongside Britain and France in the war against Egypt sparked by the Suez Crisis, while in 1967 90% of Israeli oil passed through the Straits of Tiran. Oil tankers that were due to pass through the straits were delayed. The straits' closure was cited by Israel as an additional casus belli leading to the outbreak of the Six-Day War. Following peace treaties signed with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, Eilat's borders with its neighbors were finally opened.
Eilat is especially defended by its own special forces unit Lotar Eilat. It is a reservist special forces unit of the IDF trained in counter-terrorism and hostage rescue in the Eilat area, which has taken part in many counter-terrorist missions in the region since its formation in 1974. The Lotar unit is composed solely of reservists, citizens who must be Eilat residents between the ages of 20 and 60, who are on call in case of a terrorist attack on the city. It is one of only three units in the IDF authorized to free hostages on its own command.
In 2011, terrorists infiltrated Israel across the Sinai border to execute multiple attacks on Highway 12, including a civilian bus and private car a few miles north of Eilat, in what became known as the 2011 southern Israel cross-border attacks.
In order to prevent terrorist infiltration of Israel from the Sinai, Israel has built the Israel-Egypt barrier, a steel barrier equipped with cameras, radar and motion sensors along the country's southern border. The fence was completed in January 2013.
In July 2012, Israel signed an agreement with China to cooperate in building the high-speed railway to Eilat, a railway line which will serve both passenger and freight trains. It will link Eilat with Beersheba and Tel Aviv, and will run through the Arava Valley and Nahal Zin.
The former Eilat Airport was closed on 18 March 2019 after the opening of Ramon Airport. The land occupied by the former airport is to be redeveloped. The new Ramon Airport opened in January 2019, 18 kilometres (11 miles) north of Eilat and replaced both Eilat Airport and Ovda Airport. Hotels and apartment buildings, containing a total of 2,080 hotel rooms and 1,000 apartments will be constructed on the site, as well as 275 dunams of public space and pedestrian paths. The plans also set aside space for the railway line and an underground railway station. The plan's goal is to create an urban continuum between the city center and North Beach, as well as tighten the links between the city's neighborhoods, which were separated by the airport.
In addition, there are plans to move the Port of Eilat and the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline terminal to the northern part of the city, as well as to turn it into a university town of science and research, and brand it an international sports city. All these projects are part of a plan to increase Eilat's population to 150,000 people and build 35,000 hotel rooms.
Eilat has a hot desert climate (BWh with hot, dry summers and warm and almost rainless winters in Köppen climate classification). Winters are usually between 11–23 °C (52–73 °F). Summers are usually between 26–40 °C (79–104 °F). There are relatively small coral reefs near Eilat; however, 50 years ago they were much larger.
The overwhelming majority of Eilat's population are Jews. Arabs constitute about 4% of the population. Eilat's population includes a large number of foreign workers, estimated at over 10,000 working as caregivers, hotel workers and in the construction trades. Eilat also has a growing Israeli Arab population, as well as many affluent Jordanians and Egyptians who visit Eilat in the summer months.
The educational system of Eilat accommodates more than 9,000 youngsters in eight day-care centers, 67 pre-kindergartens and kindergartens, 10 elementary schools, and 3 six-year high schools. Also, there are some special-education schools and religious schools. Ben Gurion University of the Negev maintains a campus in Eilat. The Eilat branch has 1,100 students, about 75 percent from outside the city. In 2010, a new student dormitory was funded and built by the Jewish Federation of Toronto, the Rashi Foundation, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the municipality of Eilat. The SPNI's Eilat Field School on the outskirts of Eilat offers special hiking tours that focus on desert ecology, the Red Sea, bird migration and other aspects of Eilat's flora and fauna. The Hesder Yeshiva Ayelet Hashachar, is based in Eilat, established in 1997.
Yoseftal Medical Center, established in 1968, is Israel's southernmost hospital, and the only hospital covering the southern Negev. With 65 beds, the hospital is Israel's smallest. Special services geared to the Red Sea region are a hyperbaric chamber to treat victims of diving accidents and kidney dialysis facilities open to vacationing tourists.
Eilat has two main roads connecting it with the center of Israel - Route 12, which leads North West, and Route 90 which leads North East, and South West to the border crossing with Egypt. Egged, the national bus company, provides regular service to points north on an almost hourly basis as well as in-city on a half-hourly basis during daylight hours.
Future plans also call for a rail link, sometimes referred to as the Med-Red to decrease travel times substantially from Eilat to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, via the existing line at Beer Sheba; planning is underway.
In the 1970s tourism became increasingly important to the city's economy as other industries shut down or were drastically reduced. Today tourism is the city's major source of income, although Eilat became a free trade zone in 1985.
Eilat offers a wide range of accommodations, from hostels and luxury hotels to Bedouin hospitality. In recent years Eilat has been the target of militants from Egypt and Gaza causing a reduced tourist inflow to the region. Attractions include:
Skin and scuba diving equipment is for hire on or near all major beaches. Scuba diving equipment rental and compressed air are available from diving clubs and schools all year round. Eilat is located in the Gulf of Aqaba, one of the most popular diving destinations in the world. The coral reefs along Eilat's coast remain relatively pristine and the area is recognized as one of the prime diving locations in the world. About 250,000 dives are performed annually in Eilat's 11 km (6.84 mi) coastline, and diving represents 10% of the tourism income of this area. In addition, given the proximity of many of these reefs to the shore, non-divers can encounter the Red Sea's reefs with relative ease. Water conditions for SCUBA divers are good all year round, with water temperatures around 21–25 °C (70–77 °F), with little or no currents and clear waters with an average of 20–30 metres (66–98 feet) visibility.
Eilat has been utilized by film and television productions - domestic and foreign - for location shooting since the 1960s, most notably in the early 90s as a tropical locale for season 2 of the Canadian production Tropical Heat.
Despite harsh conditions, the region has supported large populations as far back as 8,000 BCE.
Exploration of ancient sites began in 1861, but only 7% of the area has undergone serious archaeological excavation. Some 1,500 ancient sites are located in a 1,200-square-kilometre (460 sq mi) area. In contrast to the gaps found in settlement periods in the neighbouring Negev Highlands and Sinai, these sites show continuous settlement for the past 10,000 years.
Eilat neighborhoods are Arava, Ganim A, Ganim B, Hadekel, Ha'eshel, Mizpe Yam, Maar'av Sheva (also known as West7), Midbar, Ophir, Shahamon, Tse'elim, Urim, Ye'elim, Zofit Elite, and Zofit Tachtit.