After Friday’s abduction of 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin in the Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces executed in full its “Hannibal procedure,” a protocol that calls for the massive use of force in an effort to rescue a captured soldier, even at risk to his life. As a result of the heavy fire in the Rafah area, dozens of innocent civilians were killed.
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A senior General Staff officer said Sunday that “a great deal of fire was used in the area, and targets were attacked” in order to isolate it.
According to Palestinian reports, more than 130 Palestinians were killed in this onslaught, with some of the bodies located only in the days after it happened. Palestinians also accused the IDF of attacking vehicles en route to the Rafah hospital, including several ambulances.
IDF sources said that senior commanders in the field ordered the procedure implemented in full. The army knows that innocents were hurt as a result of the massive use of force after the soldier's capture.
An IDF inquiry concluded that about 75 minutes after a cease-fire was to have taken effect on Friday morning, a Givati Brigade patrol came under heavy fire while moving toward a building where a tunnel shaft was located. Company commander Maj. Benaya Sarel and his communications officer, Staff Sgt. Liel Gidoni, were killed. The IDF now believes Goldin, a squad commander, was also killed in the incident.
Contrary to earlier reports, however, the inquiry concluded that the terrorist who came nearest the three soldiers wasn’t wearing a suicide belt, but simply continued firing his rifle until he was killed.
When other soldiers from the company arrived at the scene a few minutes later, they found three bodies, those of Sarel, Gidoni and a Hamas operative wearing an IDF uniform. They then realized that Goldin was missing. The company’s deputy commander, 1st Lt. Eitan, decided to take some of his men into the tunnel to search for Goldin, in violation of protocol.
A few hundred meters into the tunnel, the troops found some of Goldin’s personal effects, which later helped the IDF to establish that he had been killed. The tunnel itself had several branches, some of them blocked. One led into a mosque, which the soldiers searched, but it was empty. Another led to a Hamas outpost.
The IDF then sent additional forces to the area, including aircraft and observation equipment. According to an IDF source, virtually all the firepower in the south-central region of the Gaza Strip were sent to the Rafah sector, where the incident took place, on orders from Givati Brigade commander Col. Ofer Winter. This included a tank battalion and an infantry battalion, which helped search for additional tunnel shafts. These forces also laid down heavy fire “from all directions,” including tank shells, artillery bombardments and air strikes, in an effort to isolate the area where Goldin was thought to be, block all access routes to and from it and thereby ensure that nobody could either enter or leave without the soldiers noticing, the IDF source said. This was in line with the Hannibal procedure, which one senior officer said is meant to ensure that “every effort to locate the kidnapped [soldier] and the kidnappers” is made.