Knesset Panel: Collecting Gas Masks Eliminates Public's Protection Against Attacks

A Knesset security sub-committee said yesterday that the failure to collect and renovate gas masks could lead to a de facto collapse of national civil defense.

The sub-committee of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee asked the State Comptroller to probe suspicions that former defense minister Shaul Mofaz had misled the Knesset, and that commercial interests relating to the gas masks had influenced life and death decisions.

The sub-committee, headed by MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), said that the home front's readiness and alertness to chemical threats has been in constant retreat over the last few years.

The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee approved in 2005 collecting the gas masks from people's homes. It did so after then defense minister Shaul Mofaz, his deputy Zeev Boim, Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon, and Home Front commanders assured the committee that the IDF could distribute the masks to the people within three to seven days.

However, experts for the National Security Council (NSC) contradicted that, and told the committee that the gas mask distribution would take a few weeks.

The committee decided that at a time of war "accompanied by intensive fire throughout Israel, the mask distribution could become an impossible mission."

The sub-committee said that accumulating the gas masks in the Home Front Command's storerooms instead of distributing them to people would render them useless.

The committee asked State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrausse to probe "how the Knesset was apparently misled on a vital issue, like the time of redistributing the gas masks and the problem of doing so in an emergency."

"The findings dealing with whether the committee received truthful reports from the government are very worrying," said Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (Kadima).

MK Limor Livnat (Likud) said "the committee received reports that had nothing to do with reality, and this should keep us awake at night."

The sub-committee also asked Lindenstrausse to examine the "problematic decisions" made in the past, and the allegations about commercial considerations that had influenced decisions.

The sub-committee recommended that collecting gas masks cease, and that effective nuclear, biological and chemical protection be issued to homes, especially in the North.