FADC: Hand out gas masks immediately

Israeli civilians are unprepared for nonconventional attacks, prominent committee members warn.

gas masks 3 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
gas masks 3 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israeli civilians are unprepared for nonconventional attacks, warned prominent members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday afternoon, blasting the defense establishment for ignoring calls to fix the situation. Committee chairman MK Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima) and MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), chairman of the Subcomittee for Readiness, held a press conference during which they called on the government to begin immediate distribution of gas masks to the public. They complained that although Steinitz's subcommittee published a report on the subject a year ago, no steps had been taken to fix the problems. "The recommendations published in the report were not carried out," said Steinitz. "There is a possibility for increased conflict on the borders, and failure to carry out the recommendations endangers lives." When the report on home front readiness in the face of nonconventional threats was published in 2007, the government agreed to comply with the findings, which included distributing gas masks to civilians according to "priority regions." The first of those groups, which was supposed to have received gas masks by the end of 2007, consisted of northern residents and reservists' families. "If anything happens, the Winograd Report will pale in comparison to this failure," warned Steinitz. "The danger of the use of chemical weapons - especially by Syria, which now holds the dubious record of most chemical country in the world - can not be ruled out." Hanegbi was more cautious, arguing that the risk of chemical attack was low, but adding that "even unlikely scenarios could occur, and thus we must urgently act to hand out the masks." According to Steinitz, between four million and five million gas mask sets are currently sitting in warehouses awaiting distribution. The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has already threatened sanctions against the defense establishment if it does not hand out the equipment. The committee has also said it expects the defense establishment to refresh older sets and to make sure sets are distributed to all citizens. Responding to a report that appeared in the Kuwait-based Al-Siyasa newspaper, which said Hizbullah was being supplied with chemicals from North Korea, such as nerve gas or mustard gas, to create rockets with chemical warheads, Steinitz said, "I cannot exclude this possibility." Steinitz said he had not heard of the report, but added that he would not "be terribly surprised" if Hizbullah were working to acquire chemical weapons. Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.