Gas masks are unfit for use, declares state comptroller
'Some won't work for children, some are unsafe,' says Lindenstrauss
By REBECCA ANNA STOIL, YAAKOV LAPPIN
Gas masks soon to be distributed by the IDF to civilians across the country are not fit for use, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss warned in a report delivered on Monday to acting Knesset Speaker Michael Eitan.
The state had not been able to find masks for purchase in overseas markets that would protect infants and children from chemical attack, he said.
Interministerial rivalries meant that even though NIS 220 million had been approved for the Defense Ministry to buy new masks, no purchases had been made while the Treasury and Defense Ministry bickered over where the budget would come from, the state comptroller said.
As for the Sapphire Stone gas masks currently under development by the Defense Ministry and a private contractor, Lindenstrauss said it had been underway since 2007 even though the system did not conform to breathing and safety guidelines. The masks' 2004 stamp of approval from the IDF was given despite the fact that the masks had been determined to constitute a mortal danger to their users.
But even if gas masks were procured, the IDF did not have any real plan as to how to distribute them to the public, Lindenstrauss said.
In June 2004, it was decided that the IDF would collect the masks that had been distributed to every household in Israel. Then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz of Likud, who is now Transportation Minister and a Kadima MK, and then-chief of General Staff and current Likud MK Moshe Ya'alon presented a plan to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee through which they could distribute masks within a number of days in the event of an emergency.
Lindenstrauss said in Monday's report that the ability to carry out this hurry-up redistribution had never been tested. In addition, no operational order to carry out such a plan had ever been prepared for the relevant bodies within the IDF, including the Home Front Command, and no plan had ever been drawn up for the distribution of manpower to hand out the masks, he said. Also, no representatives of the Defense Ministry had ever told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the plan had never been tested and that orders to implement it did not exist.
In February 2007, then-deputy defense minister Efraim Sneh okayed the collection of the gas masks after the Knesset committee ruled that the IDF would have at least six-months warning before war broke to reinforce the home front. But Lindenstrauss pointed out that only six months earlier, the Second Lebanon War had erupted and found the home front completely unprepared.
Brig-Gen Ze'ev Snir, the assistant to Defense Minister Ehud Barak for procurement, said on Monday that the disagreements between the Defense Ministry and the Treasury, which had delayed the redistribution, were on the verge of being bridged.
Budgetary constraints have been preventing the masks from being upgraded and distributed to every citizens at the same time, leading the Defense Ministry to privatize the distribution process by launching a tender for private contractors.
Under a five-year plan, the masks that had been collected from the public over recent years and upgraded will be gradually be returned.
In the event of war, the Home Front Command would take over the distribution process, getting the masks to high-risk areas first, Snir said.
He refused to elaborate on which areas were classified as high-risk.
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