Israelis waiting at a hitchhiking stand near the settlement of Ofra
Israelis waiting at a hitchhiking stand near the settlement of Ofra Photo by Eyal Warshavsky
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The Israel Defense Forces is telling its combat units that soldiers should make sure not to become "another Gilad Shalit" and be abducted.

"I deliver this message in any discussion in which the topic of Gilad Shalit or other POWs comes up," an infantry battalion commander said. "Under no circumstances should a soldier be taken hostage. Our soldiers do their utmost to prevent this from happening - they [are ordered] to fire at a group of abductors even if that means their IDF comrade would be killed. And the soldiers understand this fully: They cannot become another Gilad Shalit."

Sometimes this message is articulated in public. Two years ago, Nahal commander Moti Baruch told Haaretz that "our message is that no soldier can be taken hostage, and this message is delivered categorically." At the time, Baruch's troops were serving on the Gaza border.

Baruch, now a brigadier general, said that "officers can, while evaluating conditions in the field, reach an array of decisions, but they are required to prevent a kidnapping."

He said the soldiers' main concern is to attack hostage-taking terrorists, even if that means injury or death to the kidnapped soldier.

"In the end, when dealing with such an event, you have to look at it as an occurrence where there's an enemy before you think about it as one where there's a kidnapped soldier," said Baruch. So he makes sure his soldiers train regularly for such a scenario.

Two weeks after Israel's Gaza offensive nearly three years ago, a recording of a discussion led by Lt. Col. Shuki Ribak reached the media. At the time, Ribak was the commander of the Golani Brigade's 51st battalion; he was speaking to his troops before they entered the Gaza Strip.

"I don't need to tell you this, but no soldier from the 51st battalion can be kidnapped, at any cost, not in any circumstance," he said. "That can mean that a soldier should detonate his hand grenade and blow himself up [together] with the person trying to abduct him."

The IDF Spokesman's Office, however, said there is no standing order in the army along these lines. But many officers supported the practice.

A few months ago, a high-ranking tank officer said that "this subject is clear to all soldiers and their officers .... It's clear what we expect from soldiers."

Today, the IDF does not comment publicly on this rule drawn up in 1986 by a group of top officers, including Yossi Peled, today a cabinet member, and Gabi Ashkenazi, who later became chief of staff.

The order, revealed by Haaretz in 2003, states that "at the time of a kidnapping the main mission becomes forcing the release of the abducted soldiers from their kidnappers, even if that means injury to our soldiers."

Today, soldiers say that when this rule is mentioned in briefings and discussions between officers and soldiers, no one protests the rationale.