Anxiety Rises in Israel Over Syria

YERUSHALAYIM -
Picking up gas masks at a distribution centre in Yerushalayim on Tuesday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Picking up gas masks at a distribution centre in Yerushalayim on Tuesday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While the whole world waited on Tuesday for U.S. President Barack Obama and Western allies to decide about military intervention in Syria, Israel waited too — though Israelis know they may be more than bystanders.

Following what were described as “urgent” security consultations on Tuesday afternoon, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated the warning prompted by Syrian threats to retaliate against Israel in the event of a U.S. attack: “The state of Israel is ready for any scenario. We are not part of the civil war in Syria but if we identify any attempt whatsoever to harm us, we will respond and we will respond in strength,” he said.

Though such statements have become routine in recent days, there was growing anxiety, both at the upper echelons of government and among ordinary Israelis, as international military action seemed imminent.

Gas masks have become a hot item, with people lining up for them at distribution points around the country, and the Homefront Command bolstering staff to keep with demand.

A Tel Aviv venue which normally serves about 10 people daily served hundreds on Tuesday, according to Ynet.

“Striking Israel is inevitable,” said Eyal, who was waiting in line for over an hour. “If the U.S. attacks, they will definitely fire on us,” he said.

“I’d like to stay optimistic,” said Hadas from Tel Aviv, who arrived with her 3-year-old son. “They say war is upon us and I’ll do everything I can to keep my children safe.”

“Though the risk is low, it still seems more probable than before,” said Zohar from Zichron Yaakov at distribution point in Haifa. “The Americans are going to attack and we already know that Assad has chemical weapons, so why take the risk?”

Meanwhile, as an estimated 40 percent of the population are without masks, and many may not be able to reach a protected area in the event of an attack of any kind, the Homefront Command issued instructions, many of which were strikingly similar to one another:

If you’re outside with no building nearby, lie on the ground and cover your head with your hands.

In a vehicle — stop at the side of the road, leave the vehicle, lie on the ground and cover your head with your hands.

On a bus, the driver must stop the bus and open the doors. The passengers must bend down below the bottom of the windows and cover their heads with their hands.

On a train, the engine driver must slow the train to 30 kilometers an hour for ten minutes. Passengers must bend down below the bottom of the windows.