Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking Thursday at a meeting concluding this week’s Home Front drill, instructed government ministries to equip all of Israel’s residents with gas mask kits. The exercise, called “Turning Point 7,” tested the country’s readiness for chemical and conventional rocket attacks.
Only 58% percent of Israelis have gas masks, and it is estimated that it will take NIS 1.3 billion (some $350 million) to cover the rest of the population. In addition, it will cost NIS 300 million (some $80 million) annually to maintain the kits.
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. An Israeli analyst said Thursday that Syrian-Israeli tensions are now “incendiary.”
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.
Facing the threat of thousands of enemy rockets, Israel’s home front is more vulnerable than ever, Netanyahu added at the meeting.
“We are deep in the era of missiles that are aimed at civilian population areas,” Netanyahu said during a meeting of the Emergency Economy Committee. “We must prepare defensively and offensively for the new era of warfare. The state of Israel is the most threatened state in the world. Around us are tens of thousands of missiles and rockets that could hit our home front.”
Netanyahu said that November’s Operation Pillar of Defense, during which Hamas terrorists fired hundreds of rockets from Gaza at Israeli civilian areas, was a small example of the change in the nature of the threats Israel faces.
In addition to training the military and emergency services, the three-day exercise also sought to prepare the civilian population. Air-raid sirens sounded twice, drilling the civilian population in finding shelter at home, work and school.
The prime minister explained that maintaining high public morale was a key element of national security.
“Defensive preparations, first of all, mean preparing the spirit of the nation to be steadfast in order to allow the military to strike the enemy that wants to destroy us,” Netanyahu said. “It is important to maintain functional continuity in the home front that is under fire. The Israeli home front is more accessible to the enemy than it has been.
“Defense demands many resources and this requires a change in our national priorities, including legislative changes,” Netanyahu added in an apparent reference to ongoing political turmoil surrounding a universal draft law that would induct ultra-Orthodox youth into the army.
“It is the responsibility of government ministries to work together and see to it that the vital enterprises under their purview continue to operate even in emergencies in order to create functional continuity in time of emergency,” said Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan.
The Emergency Economy Committee, led by Erdan, is composed of the director-generals of all government ministries, as well as representatives of other business and industry organizations. The committee is tasked with evaluating and ensuring the functional continuity of the economy and government ministries in times of emergency.