About a million gas masks meant to protect Israel's population against chemical weapons are currently sitting in the Home Front Command’s warehouses.
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In 2014, the security cabinet decided to halt distribution of gas masks to the general public, but opted to keep them in storage and maintain the ability of two Israeli companies to produce more masks. Currently, masks are given only to civilian first responders. The soldiers who do receive masks – and this includes only certain combat troops – use a type different than those given to civilians.
In line with the 2014 decision, two companies – Supergum and Shalon – are still producing gas masks, which are then purchased by the Defense Ministry and sent straight to Home Front Command warehouses around Israel. The defense budget includes 80 million shekels ($22 million) for gas masks for both 2017 and 2018.
Since gas masks are only effective for 25 years, the Home Front Command also employs a civilian company whose job is to destroy masks that have passed their expiration date.
The cabinet’s 2014 decision stemmed largely from the dismantling of most of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks, although Israeli intelligence agencies said at the time that Syrian President Bashar Assad had probably retained a limited quantity of the weapons. The Syrian regime allegedly carried out a chemical attack on its own citizens on Tuesday.
“There’s currently no state threat in the realm of atomic, biological and chemical weapons, but this way, we preserve the knowledge and capabilities,” a senior Home Front Command officer told Haaretz regarding the decision to continue producing a small number of gas masks each year. “Not many places in the world manufacture masks, so we decided to preserve the knowledge and capabilities – until a different decision is made.”
The army’s Northern Command, he added, still has to consider the possibility of chemical weapons attacks, but the Home Front Command deals only with attacks on the civilian population, where no such danger is currently foreseen.