With the defense establishment running a shortage of special gas masks coveted by the bearded Haredi public, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party is demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exercise his influence in order to speed up the supply of the kits.
Israel is suffering from a shortage of the Bardas, a mask that covers the entire head and is meant for older people who are ill and for men with beards. As a result, most Haredi men do not have any protection due to the traditional mask's incompatibility with beards. The masks are meant to protect from biological or chemical attacks.
This past December, the Israeli government decided to change the previous policy, which required the distribution of gas masks only to citizens living in areas of the country considered to be particularly vulnerable to missile threats, and ordered that protection kits be given to all Israeli citizens.
The decision left the defense establishment scrambling to complete its supply. Currently, the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command possesses enough protection kits to cover about 60 percent of the population.
Home Front Command officers and Treasury officials are discussing ways to finance the acquisition of more gas masks from the two companies that manufacture them in Israel. The cost of the additional purchase is estimated at NIS 1.5 billion.
The current supply of gas masks contains a small number of the Bardas model. "Currently, these kits are intended for citizens with health issues," said Colonel (res.) Yossi Sagiv, the Home Front Command officer responsible for overseeing the supply of kits. "There won't be any distribution of kits for men with beards in the near future."
The cost of the Bardas gas mask is nearly twice that of the conventional gas mask.
"The first Gulf War was 20 years ago," said Be'er Sheva deputy mayor Ofer Kardi (Shas). "How could it be that to this very day none of the relevant officials in the army has said anything about insufficient budgets? It's been almost 20 years and this issue has not even been raised once. I think that this is a flaw in the defense establishment."
"We are an integral part of the state of Israel and the public in this country," he said. "They should've taken us into account. We're not second class citizens. Why is the Home Front waiting until the last minute?"
Kardi said he has urged Shas chairman Eli Yishai, who is also interior minister, to immediately address the issue. The deputy mayor said Netanyahu promised Yishai that he would allocate the appropriate budget toward solving the problem.
Yishai has demanded that Netanyahu accommodate the ultra-Orthodox by arranging for the supply of newer-model gas masks tailored for men with beards. In the past, the Defense Ministry has provided Haredi men with the same masks used for those with disabilities. These masks cover the entire head rather than just the face.
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