Despite concern that Israel could come under a chemical attack due to the
growing instability in Syria, the IDF Home Front Command will suspend
distribution of gas masks at the end of the month due to a government refusal to
allocate funds necessary to continue their production.
By the end of
March, a little over 4 million Israelis will have received new gas masks under
the IDF’s distribution program, which began in 2006 with the collection of the
public’s old gas masks. The remaining 40 percent of Israel’s population will not
Behind the shortage is a disagreement between the Defense
Ministry and the Treasury over where the funding for the continued refurbishment
and distribution of the masks will come from. The Defense Ministry has asked for
a budget supplement, while the Treasury has argued that the money should come
from the regular defense budget.
“Nothing has changed, even though there
will not be any gas masks left by the end of the month,” a senior defense
official said on Monday. “Once the production line closes it will also take time
to restart it.”
News of the lack of gas masks comes as the IDF is
increasingly concerned with the possibility that Syria’s extensive arsenal of
chemical weapons will fall into rogue terrorist hands. It is also concerned with
the possibility that President Bashar Assad will be tempted to attack Israel if
he feels that his regime’s demise is imminent.
In January, the IDF held a
civil-defense exercise to prepare the Home Front Command for a biological and
chemical attack against Israel, as well as the first-ever drill simulating a
radioactive dirty bomb attack against the country.
Distribution of gas
masks is overseen by the Home Front Command but is carried out by the Israel
Postal Company, which comes to people’s homes and delivers the kits. The IDF has
recorded a sharp climb in the number of Israelis contacting the company in
recent weeks up to nearly 200,000.
One of the catalysts is believed to be
the recent media reports on a possible Israeli attacks against Iran, as well as
a new campaign by the Home Front Command to get residents of Tel Aviv and Haifa
– two cities believed to likely be the most threatened in a future war – to
collect their masks.