In a shocking new revelation, Israeli officials have admitted that more than a million citizens of the Jewish state do not have access to essential personal forms of protection in the event of an enemy missile or chemical attack.
Making their comments against the backdrop of a possible Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities and a potential retaliation aimed at the Israeli homeland, the officials stated that 1.7 million Israelis are unable to avail themselves of bomb shelters or bunkers. They also revealed that 40% of the country’s population is unable to obtain gas masks, and that the majority of schools in Israel do not have enough space to contain all their students in a protected area. The unsettling information shows that the disparity in access to protective measures is reflective of the wide income gap between residents of wealthy communities and those living in underprivileged areas.
Most defense experts concur that – while Israeli cities are quite likely to be targeted in the aftermath of an Israeli attack on Iran – local defense capacities are often woefully inadequate. According to the experts, even if the government renews its production of gas masks and allocates $320 million to the only two factories in the country that manufacture them, there would not be enough time to produce a sufficient number of masks to cover the entire population.
The reality of the current production situation is even more sobering. Itai Bar-On, deputy general manager at one of the gas mask factories told the Washington Post that the production line is only functioning at 7 percent of its total capacity. Bar-On added that approximately one-third of the factory’s employees were terminated from their jobs in recent months.
Aside from the severe gas mask shortage, a recent review by officials of Israel’s Home Front Command concluded that approximately 60% of the Jewish state’s public bomb shelters are unfit for use. Hundreds of vital mobile shelters are lacking in Israel’s southern communities, a number that generates notable concern given the recent increase in rocket attacks on the area.
“There are some 1.7 million residents living in Israel who don’t have a bomb shelter or a bunker,” asserted MK Zeev Bielski, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Subcommittee for the Examination of Home Front Readiness. “We’re talking about some 400,000 homes and apartments, most of which were built in the 1950s. In case a war breaks out, these residents will be told: ‘Sit under a doorpost.’”
Commenting on the worrisome situation, a Home Front Command official said, “Israel has made a great effort to coordinate between the different emergency forces. But this urgency was not realized in the budgets. We must change the Israeli way of thinking regarding this issue.”
According to Bielski, the Home Front Command recently completed plans for a project to protect stairwells in older buildings, but the project was not implemented due to budgetary constraints. “This is only the beginning,” the Kadima MK cautioned. “The biggest scandal involves ABC (atomic, biological and chemical protection) kits. The State of Israel has issued ABC kits to anyone who demands them, fully knowing there are not enough gas masks to go around. It must be made clear that this is not an off-the-shelf product and we cannot order it from other countries.”
Another issue negatively affecting the integrity of homefront defense is the problem of financial disparities between local authorities in the country. “There is a direct connection between financial stability and a community’s readiness as far as bomb shelters and bunkers go,” said Avi Naim, the head of the Beit Aryeh Council. “Tel Aviv, Rishon Lezion, Ranana and Herzliya have better protection than the periphery, the Arab sector or poor cities like Bnei Brak, Ramla and Lod.”
Tel Aviv’s southern neighborhoods are also faced with a serious lack of protection in the event of a foreign attack on the homeland. “We’re not part of Israel, we live in a third world country. It might be both funny and sad to think that Bibi (Netanyahu) is ready to go to Iran, but southern Tel Aviv is just too far for him,” Habiba Ezra, a resident of Tel Aviv’s Neve Shaanan neighborhood, sarcastically commented. “There are no shelters here, only garages. There is no one to talk to.”
By contrast, though, Israel’s northern communities are in a much better state of preparedness, a result of their experiences during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. About 550 shelters were renovated in the Upper Galilee and transformed into public shelters in 2008.
Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav stated reassuringly that his city has been preparing for any number of scenarios. “Since 2006 we have been intensively busy making arrangements… preparing for difficult events,” he said.
«It›ll cost billions to decrease these gaps, and this money will come out of the education, welfare or Trachtenberg budgets – but it›s non-existent,” a defense official said. “Even if it did exist, its contribution would be mostly psychological.”