Israelis Rush for Masks Fearing Retaliation for Syria Strike

Israelis thronged to distribution centers to pick up government-issued gas masks, afraid their country will be targeted in retaliation if the U.S. attacks Syria.

The Israel Postal Service, which is distributing the masks, announced on its website that the centers would extend their hours until evening “due to extraordinary demand.” In Haifa, the biggest city closest to the northern border with Lebanon and Syria, people waited in line for hours, Israel Radio said. Some centers ran out of masks.

“I’m disappointed there aren’t enough masks, but I’m also upset at myself because my mother told me six months ago I should take care of this,” said Inbal Demma, 28, of Jerusalem, who had come to pick up masks and an infant gas tent at the city’s Hadar mall for herself, her husband and their 2-month-old daughter.

Shas lawmaker Eli Yishai, who chairs a parliamentary panel on home front defense, has said Israel doesn’t have enough masks for all of its citizens and appealed for a bigger budget.

The U.S. and its allies began exploring military action after some Syrian opposition groups said 1,300 people died in an Aug. 21 chemical attack in the Ghouta area outside Damascus. Israel, sitting on Syria’s southern border and a longtime foe, would be a potential target for retribution.

Israel Will ‘Burn’

Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Muallem, made the linkage yesterday when he said the U.S. and Israel don’t want a political solution. Ally Iran has explicitly identified Israel as a target for reprisal, with the military’s deputy chief, Masoud Jazayeri, saying Israel would “burn” from the fire of any strike on Syria, the state-run Press TV news channel reported yesterday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again urged Israelis to go about their daily routines while threatening a fierce response if the country is attacked.

“Although the likelihood of Israel’s being drawn into events in Syria is assessed as low, we decided to deploy Iron Dome batteries and our other missile interception systems,” Netanyahu said today at the start of another security consultation. “But I emphasize once again, if someone tries to harm the citizens of Israel, the Israeli military will respond very forcefully,” the prime minister said, in a text message from his office.

Odds Slim

Some analysts and former military officials see the odds of a retaliatory attack as slim because it would distract the Syrian government from its main objective, vanquishing rebels.

It’s “a possibility that can’t be ignored,” said Yiftah Shapir, director of the Military Balance Project at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “On the other hand, rationally, I don’t think they need another front against Israel. They are very much involved in a war for their survival and don’t need another war in their back yard.”

While Shapir didn’t rule out an attack by pro-Syria Hezbollah, he said that wasn’t in the Lebanese militant group’s interest because it is fighting alongside Syria and under fire at home for joining that conflict.

Israeli markets were not affected by the war talk. The shekel appreciated 0.7 percent to 3.6292 per dollar as of 5:27 p.m. in Tel Aviv, while the benchmark TA-25 Index advanced for a second day this week, rising 1.2 percent to 1,178.41 at the close.

Israel first distributed gas masks to its citizens before the 1991 Gulf War, during which Iraq fired Scud missiles at the Jewish state after the U.S. attacked Iraq for invading Kuwait. None of the missiles carried chemical weapons.

Israel has bolstered its air defenses in the northern part of the country, and has called up reserves in air force, military intelligence and home front units.

“We are getting ready and are prepared, but there is no panic, no escalation, and things are being done judiciously.” Israeli Defense Moshe Ya’alon said yesterday.

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