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IDF Spars with Comptroller over Report on Gas Masks

The Israel Defense Force is at loggerheads with a report by State Comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat that alleges the IDF distributed inadequate gas masks for babies and young children during the recent chemical warfare scare.

Ben-Porat’s report, made public last month, was officially accepted Monday by the Knesset’s Control Committee and angrily rejected by the IDF high command.

Defense Minister Moshe Arens was to explain the army’s objections at a committee hearing Tuesday.

Ben-Porat, a former member of the High Court of Justice, also charged that about 1,000 gas masks distributed to adults were defective.

But her allegation that infants and children could have been without protection in a poison gas attack has stirred the most controversy.

According to Ben-Porat, gas-protected cribs for infants were inadequate and the “passive masks” issued to youngsters between the ages of 4 and 8 were good only for an hour or so.

The comptroller said the IDF should have developed an “active” mask with battery-driven ventilators. The defense authorities claim they did the best they could with the limited funds available.

The IDF said reduced military budgets compelled the civil defense authorities to limit their purchases to two sizes of gas masks for the entire population, even though facial sizes vary greatly among babies, young children and adults.

Soldiers admittedly were favored over civilians. The IDF acknowledged they were issued much better-fitting gas masks than the general populace but said they needed them in order to fight or work outdoors during a chemical attack.

Civilians did not need the same standard because they were protected by the gas-proof rooms in which they were instructed to remain during air raid alerts, the defense authorities said.

That was never put to the test. A total of 39 Iraqi Scud missiles were fired at Israel from western Iraq during the recent Persian Gulf war, but none carried chemical warheads.

Part of Ben-Porat’s report, which has been largely accepted by the Knesset committee though rejected by the military, claims the IDF sold thousands of inferior gas masks to a German purchaser at a low price several years ago, only to buy them back for a much higher price when it became clear that Israel had no gas masks for West Bank Arabs.

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