Gas mask distribution to be suspended

IDF Home Front Command plans to suspend distribution due to government refusal to allocate funds necessary for mask production.

December 13, 2011 05:30
2 minute read.
Gas masks (illustrative)

Gas mask kids 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Despite concern the country could come under a chemical attack due to the growing instability in Syria, the IDF Home Front Command plans to suspend distribution of gas masks to the public in two months due to a government refusal to allocate funds necessary to continue their production.

Currently, 3.5 million citizens 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.

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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 the money should come from the regular defense budget.

A senior Home Front Command officer told The Jerusalem Post on Monday the distribution would come to an end in February after the remaining budget ended.

“The result would be disastrous since the whole program will be dismantled and the production line at the factories will shut down,” the officer said. “It will take months just to get things up and running again if and when a new budget is received.”

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 his regime’s demise is imminent.

Last month, the IDF held a civil defense exercise to prepare the Home Front Command for a biological and chemical attack.

Next month, it will hold the first ever drill simulating a radioactive dirty bomb attack.

The officer said even if the government allocated the entire budget required for the gas masks, it will still take two years to manufacture and distribute them to the public.

“There are two companies in Israel that manufacture gas masks and they are limited in the amount they can produce,” he said. “Even if the money arrived today, it would still take two years before all Israelis have a gas mask.”

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 181,000 in November in comparison to just 54,000 in October.

One of the catalysts is believed to be the recent media reports on a possible Israeli attack 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.

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