Gas Mask Distribution Stops as Chemical Threat Declines

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -

Israel decided on Sunday to end a decades-old policy of issuing gas masks to the public in an apparent sign of confidence in Syria’s chemical weapons disarmament.

Since being hit by Iraqi Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf War, authorities have distributed masks, though Syria’s chemical arsenal was Israel’s primary concern in recent years.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement the decision to stop providing masks to all Israelis was a result of “a defense establishment assessment that there has been a dramatic decline in the threat of the firing of chemical weapons at Israel.”

Distribution of masks to the public will stop by February and afterward they will be produced in much smaller quantities for rescue services only, the statement said.

Some Israeli officials had suggested halting the program on economic grounds, noting a kit cost an average of $100 to produce for a population of around eight million, and was of limited value against nerve agents.

“I think this decision stems mainly from budgetary concerns, but also from the perception that the threat has diminished given the Syrian chemical disarmament process,” said Alon Rozen, former director-general of the Civil Defense Ministry, who runs the Elements HLS consultancy firm.