Israel: Gas masks to be issued

2010-01-06 22:13

Tel Aviv - Israel will next month begin gradually distributing new gas masks to its 7.5 million citizens, officials said on Wednesday, the third time the country has taken such a step in its history.

Officials made no comment on the reason for the decision to distribute gas masks now. However, the masks would likely be seen as a precaution in the event of a possible chemical missile attack during any potential conflict.

The government has been tight-lipped about the distribution programme. The Israeli cabinet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not explain the timing of the move. Nor did it formally announce the programme when authorised last week.

Protective kits have twice before been distributed to Israelis. They were first told to wear them during the 1991 Gulf War, and then again ordered to have their kits ready during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

But since then, the Israeli military has collected the masks, a process completed in July 2008.

The original decision to hand out new kits was made under the previous Israeli government of centrist former premier Ehud Olmert. The Netanyahu government has now allocated the necessary funds to implement the programme, Israeli media reported.

Next month

Officials at the Israeli military Home Front Command, the arm responsible for protecting the country's civilians during times of war and disaster, confirmed that the distribution of the new kits is scheduled to begin February 28.

It is be completed within three to five years, they told the German Press Agency dpa, adding that in case of emergency, an accelerated distribution process will be put in place.

They said the distribution of the new masks will begin in defined areas first, under a pilot process. Israelis will be able to call the Postal Service hotline and pick up their gas masks from their nearest post office. They can also have them delivered to their homes.

Many Israelis fear that in case of a clash, especially with Iran, the latter could, in an extreme scenario, use missiles with chemical warheads against the Israeli population.

Verbal threats by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have intensified that fear.

The Netanyahu government, and its predecessors, have made preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons a top priority.

Israeli officials often repeat that they prefer harsh international sanctions to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear capabilities, but equally often warn that the option of a military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities remains on the table.