Special report: IDF not ready for chemical weapons attack

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Englman recommended that the commander of the land forces lead a campaign to improve combat units’ readiness for chemical weapons warfare.

The IDF Home Front Command drills gas a chemical weapons attack against Israel in 2013. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The IDF Home Front Command drills gas a chemical weapons attack against Israel in 2013.

(photo credit: REUTERS)

The IDF is not ready for the dangers posed by a chemical-weapons attack, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said in a report Monday.

Past State Comptroller’s Reports have come to the same conclusion, and the issue has jumped into the headlines many times, including as recently as 2014 and 2016.

Highlighting why the threat needs to be taken seriously, Englman wrote: “Use of chemical weapons in war has been a known threat for many years. During the civil war in Syria, starting from 2011, the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against the rebels and against civilians.”

“Other militaries are struggling with this threat, including the US military, which views it as a significant and complex challenge,” the report said.

The report covers the period of June 2019 until February 2020 and lists a number of deficiencies.

Land forces and special units that deal with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are poorly prepared, the report said. Training for units responsible for border security to inspect for or handle potential chemical items is not up to the necessary standards, it said.

Other relevant units also do not train enough for chemical-weapons scenarios, the report said. It did compliment the IDF’s general improvement in tailoring training to mission goals.

Englman recommended that the commander of land forces lead a campaign to improve combat units’ readiness for chemical warfare.

In September 2014, the IDF deputy chief of staff made Home Front Command responsible for WMD gear. But in practice, the relevant equipment remained spread out in a disorganized manner throughout the infantry forces, Home Front Command and IDF air and space forces.

Current IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir should institute a process to ensure that the flagged deficiencies are addressed, the report said.

Responding in May, Zamir said the military would reevaluate its readiness for the chemical-weapons issue, but only within the context of the broader “Momentum” financial plan.

It would only be funded to the extent that funding was available, given the IDF’s many priorities, he added.

Parts of the report criticized the office of the IDF chief engineer, the Technology and Logistics Branch and the Medical Corps. Englman suggested that the IDF chief engineer work on closing the gaps in terms of necessary equipment for protection from the chemical-weapons threat.

In addition, since 2017, soldiers who need glasses to see have not been given special chemical-weapons goggles. This practically makes such soldiers useless in the event of a chemical-weapons attack, the comptroller said.

In May, the IDF said it would study the issue.

It appeared that the IDF would not have tackled the issue at all without the comptroller raising it, and that even once the issue was raised, it may take years before it is concretely addressed. The IDF said it hoped to start formulating a solution next summer.

Aspects of the full report remain classified due to national security reasons, but significant sections of it have been made public.

The IDF responded by acknowledging the report’s contribution to efforts to maintain readiness regarding the WMD threat. It disagreed with some conclusions and said other issues were already in the process of being dealt with.

The IDF said it has clear directives at its different levels for dealing with WMDs, despite the report’s criticism that there are deficiencies in that area.

A 2014 Comptroller’s Report on the issue made virtually identical criticisms, signaling that the lack of addressing the issue over the last six years shows that the issue is not a priority for the IDF.

In 2013, then-comptroller Yosef Shapira and the High Court of Justice criticized the state for a shortage and other deficiencies in distribution of gas masks to the public.

Part of the debate dates back to Syria’s elimination of large aspects of its chemical-weapons stock in 2013. This led to many officials claiming that continued investment in gear and other chemical-weapons defense measures was a waste of funds and should be redirected elsewhere.

However, even after the Assad regime was supposed to have eliminated its entire chemical-weapons stockpile, it continued to use chemical weapons as the Syrian civil war dragged on for years.

In 2016, concerns spiked that Iran and the Assad regime were trying to smuggle chemical weapons to Hezbollah for use against Israel.

As far as Israel is concerned, Israeli intelligence has in the past said the chemical weapons used by Assad in Syria are primarily chlorine and not more dangerous chemical weapons such as sarin, VX and sulfur mustard.

Until ISIS was routed in 2017, the US had said ISIS was using a small volume of poorly weaponized mustard gas.

Against the backdrop of the IDF being unprepared for a chemical-weapons attack, the government halted its program to distribute gas masks to the public years ago.

Besides a reduced volume of Syrian chemical weapons, some Israeli national security officials have concluded that the destruction the IDF could cause in Syria is so great that this threat is a sufficient deterrent.

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