gas masks 3 224.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The IDF needs more than NIS 1 billion to complete the process of buying new gas masks and refurbishing millions of those being collected from the public, defense officials revealed on Wednesday.
The officials warned that if the money was not allocated in the coming months, the gas mask refurbishing project would be delayed and the redistribution of the masks to the public would have to be postponed until the end of the decade.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently decided that all gas masks collected from the public will be returned to private individuals after they are repaired and deemed suitable for use. Israel distributed gas masks to the public ahead of the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and has decided to recollect and refurbish them after many residents opened their masks, making them unfit for use today.
Barak's decision was made following a recommendation of the IDF Home Front Command.
But on Wednesday, high-ranking IDF officers said the Defense Ministry had yet to secure the necessary funding. According to the officers, at least NIS 1b. was missing from the current budget.
"Without the money, there is no way we will be able to stay on schedule," a top officer told The Jerusalem Post. "If we don't get the money, then we will end up with a situation in which only half of the country has masks and the other half doesn't."
Home Front Command sources said that if the missing funding was obtained, the defense establishment hoped to begin distributing gas masks to the public toward the end of 2008. According to the sources, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i is holding talks with the Prime Minister's Office and the Finance Ministry to secure the funding.
According to the defense sources, if war were to break out with Syria or Iran in the coming months, the Home Front Command would only have enough gas masks for 1.5 million adults and half a million children. The Defense Ministry has received several proposals to make emergency purchases of gas masks from Israeli and American companies, if the need arises.
Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, head of a subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that deals with preparing the country for war, confirmed to the Post that significant funding was missing from the gas mask project. He said defense officials recently told the subcommittee that the IDF would begin distributing gas masks to residents of the North in the coming months, due to the heightened tensions with Damascus and Teheran.
"I feel that the moment they start distributing the masks there will be momentum and the government will have no choice but to complete the job in other parts of the country," Steinitz said.