AnalysisIsrael shuts down chlorine storage near Ashkelon owing to terrorism threat

Published 9 January 2006

In the United States it has taken years to begin introducing meaningful security measures at chemical plants; in Israel it has taken no more than half a dozen inaccurate Kassam rockets to be fired from the Gaza Strip for chlorine storage facility to be shut down

As is the case with other aspects of the war on terrorism, Israel can teach us a thing or two. During the past two years, Palestinian militants have fired more than 600 primitive Kassam rockets from the Gaza Strip toward civilian targets in southern Israel. The rocket firing has not diminished since Israel left the Gaza Strip last August and delivered control over it to the Palestinian Authority. Initially the Kassam rockets were fired east of the Gaza Strip toward the town of Sderot. Lately, though, the Palestinians have began to aim their rockets north, toward the much larger city of Ashkelon. This constituted a major escalation on the part of the Palestinians not only because Ashkelon is a much larger city than Sderot, but also because it is ringed with many industrial facilities. One such facility belongs to Mekorot Water Company, and it contained installations which produced and stored chlorine gas intended for water chlorination. Over the weekend Mekroto shut down the facility for fears that Qassam rockets would hit the dangerous gas stockpile. Mekorot not only emptied storage tanks of chlorine gas — it started to treat water in Ashkelon with hypochlorite, a liquid which is less sensitive than chlorine gas.

The manager of Mekorot in the south, Menachem Nehama, said: “If chlorine gas is hit in a terror attack, it is environmentally toxic …. If liquid hypochlorite is hit, it spills into the ground,” causing limited, short-term damage, he said. Depending on the dosage, exposure to chlorine gas could cause lung damage, and in extreme cases, death, Nechama said. If hypochlorite, which costs seven times as much as chlorine gas, were to spill, “then I imagine in that place, plants won’t grow for several weeks,” but there would be no other effect, he said.

The Palestinians had already tried to cause massive civilian casualties in Israel by sending two Hammas suicide bombers to attack a site containing storage tanks of deadly chemical near the southern port of Ashdod. The two bombers were smuggled into Israel hidden behind the double wall of a cargo container. They were gunned down by security forces after scaling the storage facility’s fence. Israel viewed this Palestinian attempt as a grave escalation in the Palestinian terror campaign, and responded, on 22 March 2004, by killing the leader of Hamas, Shiek Ahmed Yassina.-read more in this AP report