(Israel Twitter)Eilat, אֵילַת, Arabic: إيلات , is Israel's southernmost city, a busy port as well as a popular resort, located at the northern tip of the Red Sea, on the Gulf of Eilat (or Gulf of Aqaba). Home to 46,600 people, the city is part of the Southern Negev Desert, at the southern end of the Arava. The city is adjacent to the Egyptian village of Taba to the south, the Jordanian port city of Aqaba to the east, and within sight of Saudi Arabia to the south-east, across the gulf. Eilat's arid desert climate is 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). The city's beaches, nightlife and desert landscapes make it a popular destination for domestic and international tourism.
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 Eilat. 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.
After the establishment of the State of Israel
The area was designated as part of the Jewish state in the 1947 UN Partition Plan. The British police post and collection of mudbrick buildings, called Umm Rashrash in Arabic, was taken without a fight on March 10, 1949, as part of Operation Uvda in which both the Negev and Golani Brigades participated. Having no Israeli flag with them, Negev Brigade soldiers improvised and raised the "Ink Flag" to establish Israel's claim over the area.
The Timna Copper Mines near Timna valley were opened, a port was constructed, the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline laid, and tourism began. Construction of the city and the Port of Eilat began shortly after the end of the war. The port became vital to the fledgling country's development. 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 the U.K. and France in the war against Egypt sparked by the Suez Crisis, while in 1967 it 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.
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 four high 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 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.
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. Attractions include:
Birdwatching and ringing station: Eilat is located on the main migration route between Africa and Europe. International Birding & Research Center in Eilat.
Coral Beach Nature Reserve, an underwater marine reserve of tropical marine flora and fauna.
Coral World Underwater Observatory - Located at the southern tip of Coral Beach, the observatory has aquaria, a museum, simulation rides, and shark, turtle and stingray tanks.
Dolphin Reef - A marine biology and research station where visitors can swim and interact with dolphins.
Hai-Bar Yotvata Nature Reserve, established in the 1960s to conserve endangered species, including Biblical animals, from this and similar regions. The reserve has a Visitors Center, care and treatment enclosures, and large open area where desert animals are acclimated before re-introduction into the wild. Hai-Bar efforts have successfully re-introduced the Asian Wild Ass, or Onager, into the Negev. The Hai-Bar Nature Reserve and animal re-introduction program were described in Bill Clark's book "High Hills and Wild Goats: Life Among the Animals of the Hai-Bar Wildlife Refuge". The book also describes life in Eilat and the surrounding area.
IMAX, Three dimensional graphics films
Kings City, a biblical theme park located in the hotel area next to the Stella Maris Lagoon.
Marina with some 250 yacht berths.
Timna Valley Park - the oldest copper mines in the world. Egyptian temple of Hathor, King Solomon's Pillars sandstone formation, ancient pit mines and rock art.
"What's Up" the Observatory in Eilat, a portable Astronomical Observatory with programs in the desert and on the promenade.
Ice Park - Park of ice and snow, is expected to be opened on: 10/11/2011.
Skin and SCUBA diving, with equipment 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 Aquaba, 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°, with little or no currents and clear waters with an average of 20–30 meters visibility.