Israel to Halt Most Gas-mask Production Due to Decline in Chemical Weapon Threat

Soldiers, excluding first responders, will also cease to receive gas masks; Low risk of chemical attack and need to economize cited in decision.

Moti Milrod

Gas mask production in Israel is to cease almost completely, under a decision approved by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon that is expected to be confirmed soon by the inner cabinet.

The decision is based on the significant decline in the threat of a chemical weapon attack by Syria as a result of the eradication of that country’s stocks of chemical arms in an operation that began in 2013 and was completed in June.

About a year ago, in response to the reduced threat and as an economy measure, the out of a desire to save money, the inner cabinet approved a proposal by Ya’alon to end the distribution of gas masks to civilians and reduce production to the amounts needed by the army and emergency responders. A provision in that resolution called for reevaluating the issue in a year’s time.

Ya’alon has now decided to stop making gas masks for soldiers as well, aside from a small number that will continue to be issued to first responders. Those masks are of a higher quality than the ones issued to civilians.

This decision will mean shutting down production lines at two companies, Supergum and Shalon, resulting in the dismissal of dozens of workers.

The decision to stop distributing gas masks to everyone except for first responders is controversial even within the defense establishment. Some military professionals deem this an unacceptably high risk, given fears that Syria still has a residual stock of chemical weapons.

But the intelligence agencies believe that in the worst case, Syria might use such weapons against soldiers on the border, and even this is considered unlikely. The agencies don’t think Syria will use chemical weapons against Israel’s civilian population.

At the time gas mask distribution to civilians was halted, slightly over 60 percent of Israelis had received one. Maintaining that level of coverage would have cost a few hundred million shekels a year, and finishing the job of giving gas masks to everyone was expected to cost over one billion shekels ($255 million).