Gas mask producers operating under a cloud of uncertainty

Supergum Industries could suffer if distribution of masks is canceled, as the Defense Ministry is reportedly considering.

November 18, 2013 15:27
2 minute read.
Supergum Industries' gas masks

Supergum Industries' gas masks 370. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Supergum Industries, manufacturer of gas masks for the Israeli public, is unsure of its future, a senior company executive told The Jerusalem Post this week. This followed reports that the Defense Ministry was leaning toward ending the distribution of masks.

Last week, defense sources attributed the ministry’s stance to an assessment that the chemical weapons threat against Israel had declined, although some critics said budgetary constraints were the real reason.

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Currently, 60 percent of the population is equipped with a gas mask.

Any decision to cancel further production will have a direct impact on Supergum, which manufactures the masks at its factory in the Barkan Industrial Zone in Samaria. The company might have to let go of hundreds of workers.

Only last August it received orders from the Defense Ministry to increase its rate of production. It will likely seek compensation for raw material and contracts with suppliers if it receives a cease-production directive.

“If they decide there’s a new situation in the Middle East and that the threat is gone, and if they reach a considered decision to stop production, I can’t fight that,” Gilad Golan, the Supergum executive, told The Jerusalem Post.

A former head of the IDF Home Front Command’s gas mask section, Golan said he was all too familiar with past production halts. They “caused chaos” and “ended up in price rises,” he explained “Prior to August we had orders coming in and activated one shift a day,” he said. “In the middle of August we doubled our workload, and the number of gas masks [the ministry] wanted meant we were working 24-hours a day and on weekends.

Dozens of new staff were recruited. We ordered new components and raw materials.

This was the situation until last week, when we heard in the media that it might stop. We were totally surprised.”

Now the company has slowed down its production schedule so that it can complete existing ministry orders by a year from now.

“We don’t know what our status is. We’re not getting answers. Our fear is to wake up one morning and find that everything is cancelled,” Golan said.

“Industries can’t open and close on a whim. You have to stock up on supplies and link up with new suppliers,” he continued.

“The suppliers are calling us to try and make sure nothing happened. We’re under big pressure.”

He expressed hope that decision-makers would wait at least a year before deciding what to do, and said that the original decision to distribute gas masks had come from an assessment that a future war would give no advance warning.

Some 200 employees will be sent home if production is stopped, he said, comparing the factory’s workforce to a “military unit.”

“Before it is ready it has to mobilize and train soldiers,” he explained. “We took 100 new employees and trained them for increased gas mask production. Someone has to tell us that this situation is under control.”

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