The ‘Hannibal Directive’: Did the IDF Kill Hadar Goldin?

August 10th, 2014 - by admin

Ruth Margalit / The New Yorker & Dell Cameron / The – 2014-08-10 01:46:19

Hadar Goldin and the Hannibal Directive
Ruth Margalit / The New Yorker

(August 6, 2014) — Buried deep inside a Times report last weekend about Hadar Goldin, the Israeli soldier who was reported captured by Hamas, in the southern Gaza Strip, and then declared dead, was the following paragraph:

The circumstances surrounding his death remained cloudy. A military spokeswoman declined to say whether Lieutenant Goldin had been killed along with two comrades by a suicide bomb one of the militants exploded, or later by Israel’s assault on the area to hunt for him; she also refused to answer whether his remains had been recovered.

Just what those circumstances were began to filter out early this week, and they attest to deep contradictions in the Israeli military — and in Israeli culture at large.

A temporary ceasefire went into effect last Friday morning at eight. At nine-fifteen, soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces headed toward a house, in the city of Rafah, that served as an entry point to a tunnel reportedly leading into Israel. As the IDF troops advanced, a Hamas militant emerged from the tunnel and opened fire. Two soldiers were killed. A third, Goldin, was captured — whether dead or alive is unclear — and taken into the tunnel.

What is clear is that after Goldin was reported missing, the IDF enacted a highly controversial measure known as the Hannibal Directive, firing at the area where Goldin was last seen in order to stop Hamas from taking him captive. As a result, according to Palestinian sources, seventy Palestinians were killed. By Sunday, Goldin, too, had been declared dead.

Opinions differ over how this protocol, which remained a military secret until 2003, came to be known as Hannibal. There are indications that it was named for the Carthaginian general, who chose to poison himself rather than fall captive to the Romans, but IDF officials insist that a computer generated the name at random.

Whatever its provenance, the moniker seems chillingly apt. Developed by three senior IDF commanders, in 1986, following the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, the directive established the steps the military must take in the event of a soldier’s abduction. Its stated goal is to prevent Israeli troops from falling into enemy hands, “even at the cost of hurting or wounding our soldiers.”

While normal IDF procedures forbid soldiers from firing in the general direction of their fellow-troops, including attacking a getaway vehicle, such procedures, according to the Hannibal Directive, are to be waived in the case of an abduction: “Everything must be done to stop the vehicle and prevent it from escaping.”

Although the order specifies that only selective light-arms fire should be used in such cases, the message behind it is resounding. When a soldier has been abducted, not only are all targets legitimate — including, as we saw over the weekend, ambulances — but it’s permissible, and even implicitly advisable, for soldiers to fire on their own. For more than a decade, military censors blocked journalists from reporting on the protocol, apparently because they feared it would demoralize the Israeli public.

In 2003, an Israeli doctor who had heard of the directive while serving as a reservist, in Lebanon, began advocating for its annulment, leading to its declassification. That year, a Haaretz investigation of the directive concluded that “from the point of view of the army, a dead soldier is better than a captive soldier who himself suffers and forces the state to release thousands of captives in order to obtain his release.”

For years, Israeli soldiers on the battlefield had hotly debated the directive and its use. At least one battalion commander, according to the Haaretz investigation, refused to brief his soldiers on it, arguing that it was “flagrantly illegal.” And a rabbi, asked by a soldier about the order’s religious aspect, advised him to disobey it. Major General Yossi Peled, one of the commanders who drafted the directive, told Haaretz that its purpose was to assert how far the military could go to prevent abductions.

“I wouldn’t drop a one-ton bomb on the vehicle, but I would hit it with a tank shell that could make a big hole in the vehicle, which would make it possible for anyone who was not hit directly — if the vehicle did not blow up — to emerge in one piece,” Peled said. It’s understandable that soldiers would scratch their heads over formulations such as these.

To be clear, there is no evidence that Goldin was killed by friendly fire. But military officials did confirm that commanders on the ground had activated the Hannibal Directive and ordered “massive fire” — not for the first time since Operation Protective Edge began, on July 8th. (One week into the ground offensive, in the central Gaza Strip, forces reportedly enacted the protocol when another soldier, Guy Levy, was believed missing.) Since the directive’s inception, the IDF is known to have used it only a handful of Times, including in the case of Gilad Shalit.

The order came too late for Shalit and did not prevent his abduction — or his eventual release, in 2011, in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. That year, as part of the military’s inquiry into the circumstances leading to Shalit’s capture, the IDF’s Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, modified the directive. It now allows field commanders to act without awaiting confirmation from their superiors; at the same time, the directive’s language was tempered to make clear that it does not call for the willful killing of captured soldiers.

In changing the wording of the protocol, Gantz introduced an ethical principle known as the “double-effect doctrine,” which states that a bad result (the killing of a captive soldier) is morally permissible only as a side effect of promoting a good action (stopping his captors).

Whether soldiers have heeded this change in language, and how they now choose to interpret the directive, is difficult to assess. If past experience is any indication, the military hierarchy’s interpretation remains unequivocal.

During Israel’s last operation in Gaza, in 2011, one Golani commander was caught on tape telling his unit: “No soldier in the 51st Battalion will be kidnapped, at any price or under any condition. Even if it means that he has to detonate his own grenade along with those who try to capture him. Even if it means that his unit will now have to fire at the getaway car.”

On Sunday, a decade after its initial investigation of the Hannibal Directive, Haaretz revisited the subject with a piece by Anshel Pfeffer that tried to explain why, despite the procedure’s morally questionable nature, there hasn’t been significant opposition to it. Pfeffer wrote:

Perhaps the most deeply engrained reason that Israelis innately understand the needs for the Hannibal Directive is the military ethos of never leaving wounded men on the battlefield, which became the spirit following the War of Independence, when hideously mutilated bodies of Israeli soldiers were recovered. So Hannibal has stayed a fact of military life and the directive activated more than once during this current campaign.

Ronen Bergman, author of the book By Any Means Necessary, which examines Israel’s history of dealing with captive soldiers, further explained this rationale in a recent radio interview: “There is a disproportionate sensitivity among Israelis [on the issue of captive soldiers] that is hard to describe to foreigners.” Bergman traced this sensitivity back to Maimonides, the medieval Torah scholar, who wrote: “There is no greater Mitzvah than redeeming captives.”

This line of argument, while historically true, is worth pausing over — if only to unpack the moral paradox within it. In essence, what this “military ethos” means is that Israel sanctifies the lives of its soldiers so much, and would be willing to pay such an exorbitant price for their release, that it will do everything in its power to prevent such a scenario — including putting those same soldiers’ lives at risk (not to mention wreaking havoc on the surrounding population).

This is the dubious situation that Israel finds itself in: signaling to the military that a dead soldier is preferable to a captive one, while at the same time signaling to the Israeli public that no cost will be spared to secure a captured soldier’s release.

(It’s worth recalling that, three years after Shalit was traded for more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners, the captive US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was traded for five Taliban prisoners. This isn’t to suggest that Israel cares more about its troops than the United States does, but rather that no crime is greater, in the eyes of Israelis, than the kidnapping of “our boys.”)

Daniel Nisman, who runs a geopolitical-security consultancy, told the Times that the Hannibal Directive “sounds terrible, but you have to consider it within the framework of the Shalit deal. That was five years of torment for this country, where every newscast would end with how many days Shalit had been in captivity. It’s like a wound that just never heals.”

On Tuesday, as a seventy-two-hour ceasefire went into effect and the IDF pulled its ground forces out of Gaza, I spoke to Assaf Sharon, the academic director of Molad, a progressive Israeli think tank that focusses on social policy. While he accepted Nisman’s logic, he questioned the Hannibal Directive’s social ramifications.

“I don’t know that you can draft clear-cut rules that would apply to any situation, but I do think that a certain risk of a captured soldier’s life should be allowed. I think the real problem starts with the hysterical discourse, of the kind that says, ‘This must be stopped at any cost.’ From there, the path to the horrors we’ve seen over the last few days, in Rafah, is a short one. What we’ve seen wasn’t only putting a soldier’s life at risk but intentionally targeting anything that moved — whether relevant or irrelevant.”

Sharon added that the mixed consequences of the directive are typical of the behavior that now characterizes the Israeli public at large. “On the one hand, we are willing to risk soldiers’ lives recklessly and without need, but on the other hand we have zero tolerance for the price that this might entail.”

With sixty-seven Israelis and more than eighteen hundred Palestinians killed, ground forces have completed their withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The Hannibal Directive will soon be tucked away, along with the worn bulletproof vests, until the next time the military wades into hostile territory. But its moral implications will linger. It’s time for the painful reconstruction, both in Gaza and in Israeli society, to slowly start.

Israeli Police Official Refutes Claim
That Hamas Kidnapped Israeli Teens

Dell Cameron / The

(July 25, 2014) — The recent explosion of violence in Gaza may have been initially sparked by false or inaccurate claims, according to Israeli police.

The ongoing conflict began last month when three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped from a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. Their bodies were later discovered in a field outside the city of Hebron. Before police were able to determine who was responsible, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu placed blame for the tragic deaths squarely on Hamas, Gaza’s elected political leadership — an accusation that may prove to be false.

On Friday, Chief Inspector Micky Rosenfeld, foreign press spokesman for the Israel Police, reportedly told BBC journalist Jon Donnisonhe that the men responsible for murders were not acting on orders of Hamas leadership. Instead, he said, they are part of a “lone cell.” Further, Inspector Rosenfeld told Donnison that if Hamas’ leadership had ordered the kidnapping, “they’d have known about it in advance

Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gilad Shaer, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, were kidnapped on June 12 from Gush Etzion, an Israeli settlement south of Jerusalem. After an exhaustive search that lasted over two weeks, security forces discovered the boys’ bodies in a field just north of Hebron, close to where they were abducted. The night of their disappearance, one of the boys called a police hotline and whispered, “They kidnapped me.” Police speculate that he may have been caught, leading the perpetrators to kill the teenage boys.

Husam Dofsh, a former member of Hamas, was arrested on suspicion of his involvement on July 5. After learning that he was a suspect, Dofsh called the Times of Israel and insisted he’d taken no part in the kidnapping. “I saw online, and people also told me, that I was tied to the mess, but I did not kidnap and didn’t do anything. I just want to continue my life,” Dofsh told reporters.

During the course of Israel’s investigation, some 400 Palestinians were arrested and up to 10 others were killed. Among those detained were Aziz Duwaik, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council and West Bank-based member of Hamas; and Mahmoud al-Khatib, a Hamas legislator was also reportedly abducted by the IDF during a dawn raid in the city of Bethlehem.

Israel’s crackdown in the West Bank instigated Hamas to begin firing rockets into Israel — a move that quickly escalated the conflict.

In early July, several members or activists connected to Hamas were killed, including a 14-year-old boy, which led the group to intensified their rocket attacks. Although there were no resulting deaths, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) began successive airstrikes on the Gaza Strip.

“Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay,” Netanyahu said in reference to the kidnapping. However, Inspector Rosenfeld’s statements, along with a number of reports concerning the identities of known police suspects, seem to indicate that Hamas leadership was not involved in the vicious crime.

The two more-likely suspects are Amer Abu Aysha and Marwan Kawasme, who have been missing from their homes since the night of the kidnapping. Police found cellphones and prepared food caches in their homes. Both had recently opened bank accounts in their wive’s names. Palestinian security forces reported that Abu Aysha and Kawasme were missing to the Israelis the day after the kidnapping occurred, according to Al Monitor.

“That was the first clue in the investigation and the reason why Israel pointed an accusatory finger at the Hamas infrastructure in Hebron,” wrote Shlomi Eldar, a veteran journalist who has covered the Palestinian Authority for the past two decades.

Abu Aysha and Kawasme are known members of the Qawasameh tribe, according to Palestinian security forces. While members of Hebron-based Qawasameh clan identify with Hamas, they have a history of undermining its efforts to end violent conflicts with Israel.

In 2003, for instance, the family sent two suicide bombers to blow up a bus in Jerusalem after a tahadiyeh (ceasefire) had been successfully negotiated between Israeli and Palestinian fighters, which was endorsed by Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin.

At the time of writing, a reported 848 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed, including 208 children in Gaza, since July 8 when Israel launched Operation Protective Edge.

A number of Middle East journalists have written articles accusing the Israeli government of politicide — launching Israel into renewed conflict with Hamas in order to sabotage the formation of the unified Palestinian government that it so adamantly opposed.

Vanetia Rainey, a Lebanon-based correspondent for The Week, wrote: “Israel must have known that [the] Palestinian Authority would not want to be seen to condone violence and would have to cooperate with the campaign of raids, something Hamas has been sharply critical of, calling it ‘harmful to Palestinian reconciliation’.”

This week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas backed Hamas’ conditions for a ceasefire.

“The Gaza demands of stopping the aggression and lifting the blockade in all its forms are the demands of the entire Palestinian people and they represent the goal that the Palestinian leadership has dedicated all its power to achieve,” he said.

The killing of 15 women and children by the Israel Defense Force at a UN elementary school in Beit Hanoun appears to be unifying Palestinians, but not through a shared interest in diplomacy. Roughly 10,000 protesters in the West Bank marched on Jerusalem Thursday after the school bombing. Two were killed and hundreds injured when the march clashed with Israeli police near the Qalandiya refugee camp.

On Friday, Hamas called for a third intifada and Abbas called for a “Day of Rage” marked with increased protests. “This is your opportunity,” a Hamas spokesperson said in response to the protests.

If the reported findings of the Israeli Police hold up and Hamas is officially cleared of any wrongdoing in the case of the three kidnapped Israeli teens, Netanyahu and the Israeli government may have to explain why a massive military operation, with an 80 percent rate of civilian casualties, was instigated under a false premise. And if violence in the West Bank continues to spread, the IDF may find itself divided on two fronts.

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