New gas mask kits to be issued in January

Officials hope new computerized redistribution system will make the process far more efficient.

gas masks 3 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
gas masks 3 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israelis will receive renovated gas mask kits in January, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i announced on Sunday. But before then, Israel could find itself under attack without the means to protect its civilians, said Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset Subcommittee for Security Perception. Steinitz said the masks should have been returned to the general population months ago, adding that the government was lagging far behind its own timetable. Israelis would be "wholly unprotected" should war erupt in the next six months, he warned. "The masks were collected during 2007, and the government said it will repair and redistribute them all over northern Israel and to reserve soldiers by the end of 2007. Then, at the beginning of 2008, the government was supposed to complete the redistribution to the rest of Israel. Here we are two years later, and no masks have been redistributed," Steinitz said. He dismissed out of hand the idea that the Home Front Command could rapidly distribute the masks should war erupt this year. "No one can tell when we will be at war. If we have an escalation with Syria, or if, for example, America attacks Iran and some Shihab missiles with gas fall on Tel Aviv or Haifa, it would be impossible to distribute the masks. So I think this is very irresponsible," said Steinitz. "I can tell you with confidence, if there is war tomorrow, not even 20 percent of the population would receive the masks." Steinitz directed the preparation of a report on the state of the country's gas masks in 2007 that resulted in the decision to collect and repair them. "Reserve soldiers will head to units without gas masks, and they will need it more than anyone else. We've checked this, and we found it is entirely impossible to distribute them in times of emergency," he said. "This is so ridiculous because we have between 4 and 5 million masks that have been renovated, at a cost of several billion shekels. So if war breaks out tomorrow, it will be as if the masks don't exist." Vilna'i announced the issuance of a tender for private sector companies to take charge of the redistribution, a role that up until now had been filled by the Home Front Command. "Cancel the tender - we need to redistribute immediately. At least to northern cities like Haifa and to soldiers and their families, amounting to 30% of the population. Stations can be opened now where soldiers can hand out the masks. People will come and collect them," Steinitz said. The timing of the masks' distribution is seen as a sensitive issue by some, since Israel's foes and neighbors might interpret the redistribution as preparation for a regional escalation involving Iran. But senior military analyst Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror said there was no reason to link the date with a fear of war. "As far as I know, it is a result of logistics, not intelligence," he said. "It's always better to have them, but we shouldn't get hysterical. Syria has a large quantity of chemical weapons. I'm very much in favor of allocating the masks as a form of national insurance against biological and chemical weapons. It's much better when the masks are at home." Under Vilna'i's proposal, people can opt to have the kits sent to their homes for NIS 50, and defense officials hope a new computerized redistribution system will make the process far more efficient. Each kit will have its own bar code, which will allow the masks to be tracked, and to be recalled if additional repairs are needed. Vilna'i also announced that special masks equipped with bellows will be handed out to vulnerable sectors of the population such as the elderly and the ill.•