Gas mask destribution in Ashdod Ilan Assayag 9/7/2010
Gas mask destribution in Ashdod, July 9, 2010. Photo by Ilan Assayag
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The Home Front Command has distributed 2.4 million gas masks to date, providing protection to 31 percent of Israeli citizens in the event of a chemical attack, GOC Home Front Command Maj. Gen. Yair Golan said yesterday. The Israel Defense Forces intends to give out another 1.8 million masks in the next two years, which would mean 55 percent of the population would be protected altogether.

Golan's comments came during a press conference marking a year since distribution began. He added that despite a cabinet resolution to distribute masks to every single citizen, the budget that would provide for the protection of over 55 percent of the population was never approved.

He estimated the extra financing required at NIS 1.2 billion, and noted that unless the money is secured the production lines for the masks will be shut down by the end of the year.

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said yesterday that he hopes the project will receive the extra funding it needs in the coming months. He said that while the likelihood of a chemical attack against civilians is not great, and that the Arab side understands that Israel will react severely to any such attempt, the "price of mistakes would be a heavy one." Israel will be better off not taking the risk and distributing the gas masks anyway, Vilnai explained.

Golan added that very few complaints have been received about supplies, and that response in the some of the central cities, where distribution began, has been reasonably high. Tel Aviv, however, was an exception, along with ultra-Orthodox communities.

Home Front Command is preparing an informational campaign targeting Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities, where awareness of the issue is relatively low.

Vilnai and Golan also provided some details yesterday about the annual defense drill, which is scheduled to take place this year on June 19. The exercise will include a nationwide siren at 7 P.M., to allow civilians to practice reaching shelters as quickly as possible.

Golan said that more than 80 local authorities will participate this year, and that for the first time the command will also send text messages to cell phones in areas to which missiles have purportedly been fired. Public bomb shelters will also be opened for the drill.