The Israeli cabinet has decided to hasten the production of gas masks so that in three years the entire population will be equipped with them.
The previous policy, to equip less than two-thirds of the population, was changed due to predictions that in a future conflict, Israel’s enemies would almost certainly bombard cities with medium-range missiles which are capable of carrying chemical warheads.
Although defence experts say that Hamas and Hizbollah’s missiles will probably still only carry conventional warheads, the cabinet decided that it could not take the risk.
Israel distributed gas masks to all citizens in 1990 before the first Iraq War. Five years ago, after reports that many of the masks were faulty and following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the masks were collected.
But last year, the government decided to redistribute them, beginning in the next few months, in the central coastal region and in the north, where some 60 per cent of Israel’s population lives. The Jerusalem area and more outlying regions were deemed to be at less of a risk of a missile attack.
But updated intelligence assessments regarding the capabilities of Syria, Hamas and Hizbollah, and the belief that any armed conflict between Israel and its enemies, including an airstrike on Iran’s nuclear installations, will include an intense bombardment of Israeli cities, has made the government reassess the policy.
One billion shekels (£170 million) will pay for the additional masks. The planned distribution is scheduled to take three years, but in case of sudden emergency, the IDF’s Home Command has contingency plans to distribute them to the entire populace in a few weeks.
Meanwhile, next week, the Defence and Health ministries and the IDF Home Command will carry out the largest exercise to date dealing with a biological warfare attack on an Israeli city.
Exercise “Orange Flame” will test response times and operations of the various agencies during a biological attack in the Tel-Aviv area.