Privatizing the Protection

"After the war," sighed a senior officer at the Kirya Defense Ministry compound, "Israel should reconsider the issue of the protective kits. There's no justification for continuing to leave the matter in the hands of the army and the treasury."

"After the war," sighed a senior officer at the Kirya Defense Ministry compound this week, "the State of Israel should reconsider the issue of the protective kits. There's no justification for continuing to leave the matter in the hands of the army and the treasury. This field is crying out for privatization, in both parts of the process, supply and demand, meaning production, sales and maintenance on the one hand and purchasing and use on the other. The law can decide who can't afford one, and they can get subsidies. Every citizen will decide on his own, for himself and his family, what to buy and when to use it. The role of the state will be reduced to a recommendation."

The recommendation is similar to a blinking yellow light at an intersection, as opposed to the red light requiring a full stop, or to a warning from the Health Ministry about the dangers of smoking. Even now, without the declaration of a state of emergency, the instructions to keep the protective kit close at hand are not compulsory, except in the army, where ignoring the order (for soldiers and junior officers only) is considered failure to fulfill a duty just like any other refused order; at the Kirya this week, military police were writing up reports on soldiers who disobeyed the order to carry their kit. The justification, aside from the prevention of contempt for orders, is that the army is supposed to be ready to act, even in its Home Front offices, the moment there's a chemical attack.

The rare justification for extreme measures, like curfews on towns (like in the northernmost Tel Aviv neighborhoods during the search for the terrorists after the Coastal Road Massacre of 1978) or a medical quarantine on those affected by a biological attack who could infect their neighbors, only takes place after a grave security situation has arisen and not when there is only the potential for one.

The "atropine injection" into the idea of privatization is the result of the ridiculous internal contradiction that entangled the government and the defense establishment in the problem of credibility, this time not because they are suspected of not revealing all, but because they are covering up (their behinds) too much. The immediate result of the unnecessary order to open the protective kits was NIS 10-20 million a day in direct expenditures - 300-600 million lost shekels if the alert remains in effect a month - even before the cost of refreshing, kit by kit, all the kits that were opened, like a Pandora's box that is difficult to close, but easy to sell.

The IDF is having difficulty dealing with the numerous possibilities resulting from the intersection of various groups that need kits: citizens and tourists, Palestinians and foreign workers. The person who brought the entire system to its knees, if he isn't merely a fable, is the new immigrant, bearded and deaf, who needed a special kit and a beeper with messages in his own language. It was in the face of that reality, that the government's paternal pretensions to take care of everyone, all the time and at any cost, were smashed. There is no difference in principle between a first aid kit or a supply of water and canned goods - for those who want them, and don't want to rely on a miracle or the next-door neighbor, nor on the government - and the personal decision to buy biochemical protective equipment.

The state's only duty is to make sure there is a constantly available supply of those items in the market and to prevent, through rationing or stamps, preferential treatment for the rich in matters of life and death. Such private preferential treatment already exists. Those who can afford a building with a built-in filtered air shelter, or even an underground fortress against a nuclear bomb, enjoy better conditions from the outset than those equipped only with the basic protective kit.

There's no need for distribution centers and ranks of troops in uniform, whether conscripts or reserves. The Home Front could concentrate on public assets and means - shelters, rescue, discovery and evacuation - and stop getting involved in the personal protection of each individual citizen. There's no enforcement of periodical medical checks and unless it has been secretly resurrected, the state radio's morning calisthenics program meant to prepare the Hebrew worker for a new day of creativity and work with a healthy mind in a healthy body, has also gone silent.