Thursday marks the last day that Israeli citizens will have access to government-distributed gas masks, the Home Front Command and Israel Postal Company announced, following a directive from the Defense Ministry.
The announcement comes in the wake of a decision last month by the security cabinet to discontinue the service. The defense establishment believes the threat of a chemical attack against Israel has declined.
The majority of the gas mask distribution centers were already closed Thursday, with only two – in Haifa and Petah Tikva – still operating.
The postal company, which is responsible for handing out the kits noted that 63 percent of the Israeli public have received the protective masks to date.
Israeli factories will continue to manufacture gas masks for emergency and search-and-rescue crews. However, the decision to discontinue distribution to the general public will be reviewed at the end of the year, following a new assessment by the defense establishment.
"The threat of the use of chemical weapons against Israel has decreased dramatically, which allowed us to make the decision," Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said last month. The Home Front Command, meanwhile, said a final decision should be made only after Syria's chemical weapons arsenal is fully dismantled.
Labor MK Nachman Shai agreed with that assessment, saying, "At the moment, both Syria and our neighbors have the ability to use chemical or biological weapons, and the Israeli government's decision to diminish its defensive capabilities is strange and inconceivable."
Israeli authorities have handed out gas masks since the country was hit by Iraqi Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf War, though the current procedure – which allows Israelis to pick them up or have them delivered to their homes – has been in effect since 2010.
The Home Front Command estimates the cost of maintaining the program – ensuring the masks, which expire every 25 years, are intact and replacing masks for children and teenagers – at 300 million shekels ($85.2 million) per year.