Demand for gas masks has risen by 30 percent over the past two weeks, as Israelis have become increasingly skittish over the prospect of war breaking out in the north.
The rise comes in the wake of two aerial bombings near Damascus earlier this month, reportedly carried out by Israel, and amid a national defense drill simulating chemical missiles attacks, which kicked off Monday.
Up until two weeks ago the rate of demand for gas masks was a steady 2,000 kits per day, said Israel Postal Company spokeswoman Maya Avishai. Over the past two weeks the rate climbed by 30%, reaching a new high of 4,730 on Sunday.
All told, Israel Postal has thus far distributed a total of 4,800,000 gas masks and kits, said Avishai.
She encouraged citizens to dial 171 and order kits that would later be delivered to the house. “I don’t know to say numerically how many kits remain,” she said, “but in the end it is a limited number.”
Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan confirmed Monday morning on Army Radio that “a total of 57% of the population is equipped with gas masks.”
Erdan, who declared that there was “a very low chance” of a chemical attack on Israel, said the ministry needed an additional one billion shekels to supply chemical-warfare-safety kits to the entire population.
The minister said he was more concerned, however, with the fact that only one-third of Israelis have safe rooms in their homes. All incoming funds, he said, should first be funneled toward changing that reality.
The surge in demand came on the heels of two bombings in and around Damascus. Both were attributed to Israel and, for the first time since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, government officials in Damascus in early May pledged that any further Israeli violations of Syrian sovereignty would be responded to in kind.
Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria possesses some 1,000 tons of nerve agents, the IDF’s top intelligence analyst, Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, said in April.
Chemical weapons have been used repeatedly in the Middle East. They were first deployed by Egypt during the North Yemen Civil War, killing an estimated 1,500 people in 1966-67. Saddam Hussein later turned chemical weapons against Iranian forces during the Iran-Iraq War and, later on in the same war, against Iraqi Kurds in Halabja in 1988.
In Israel on Monday the IDF Home Front Command launched a three-day nationwide drill. Turning Point 7, an annual exercise, aims to “focus on preparing the home front against the use of nonconventional weapons and preparing the home front for the appropriate government, civilian and military response,” according to an IDF statement.