NUCLEAR, BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS
March 2, 2010: At the end of February, Israel began distributing new gas mask kits. Citizens must also turn in the old ones (distributed after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003). It will take three years to complete the distribution process, although if there's an emergency, the entire population can get them in a few weeks. The slower distribution ensures that the old kits are turned in, and that everyone gets a new kit.
For over a decade, Israel has been trying to improve chemical warfare protection for its civilian population. Things have not gone well. A new gas mask design was found to be defective, and attempts to find and purchase gas masks from foreign manufacturers failed (especially when it came to obtaining masks for children, especially infants). It wasn't supposed to be like this, especially since masks were obtained and distributed, with few problems, two decades ago.
Since 1990, Israeli civilians have had gas masks for protection against chemical attack by Iraqi missiles. Six years ago, those gas masks were collected, checked, refurbished as needed and stored in army warehouses. The government felt that, with Saddam Hussein out of power, there was no other potential source of chemical attack, so no need to maintain the gas masks in the hands of the civilian population. But then Syria became more of a threat (with their hundreds of ballistic missiles, and large supplies of chemical weapons). Suddenly, the military realized that they had not refurbished all the masks because they lacked the money. On top of that there was the problem of finding a supplier for new masks, since many of the old ones were too far gone for refurbishment. When pressed on this matter, the Defense Ministry said that there would be six months warning of a chemical attack, which would be ample time to get the gas mask problem taken care of. Then it was pointed out that the 2006 war in southern Lebanon came without warning, and the Syrians could have gotten involved with that one. Then, for nearly a year, there was a budget dispute between the Defense and Treasury officials, over who should provide the money to hire a contractor to actually distribute the masks. There was much speculation over how much more this situation can be screwed up.
But wait, there's more. Thirteen years ago, Israel decided to upgrade its civil defense arrangements. They passed a law mandating that new houses have at least one "bomb proof" safe room, to be used as a shelter during rocket attacks. But most builders have ignored the law. It's expensive. To add such a room to existing houses would cost about $25,000 per home. But many Israelis have designated one room in the house as the "safe room", and perhaps reinforced it a bit, and stored emergency supplies there. Some have bought their own gas masks for the safe room. Meanwhile, government planners calculate how many Israeli civilians will die if the Syrians attack with their missiles (16,000, or more if the gas masks are not available for civilians).