LONDON (May. 4)
Several members of Parliament have demanded that the British government explain why it rejected an Israeli request to purchase gas masks to protect its civilian population from the threat of chemical warfare.
The members, not all of them supporters of Israel, were incensed by a report that the gas masks Israel wanted were child-sized. They directed their questions to the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry.
According to reports, an informal request by the Israeli Defense Ministry was rebuffed because the equipment is among the items banned under the arms embargo Britain imposed when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982.
A Foreign Office source told the Jewish Chronicle, “It was made clear that, in the present climate, Britain would refuse to export to Israel any equipment related to chemical warfare.”
An Israeli official here said the gas masks were being purchased from several countries in a major civil defense effort to meet the threat posed by the Arab world’s growing chemical warfare arsenal.
“We were surprised by the British response,” he said.
The issue was raised in Parliament by Labor member Jeff Booker, who questioned Sir Peter Levene, chief procurement officer at the Defense Ministry.
Sir Peter replied that it was a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry.
Another Labor member, Clare Short, who supports the arms embargo against Israel, nevertheless called the ban on gas masks “crazy.”