Israeli Army Mulling Criminal Probe Into Use of Hannibal Directive in Gaza

Controversial military procedure, used immediately following a possible abduction of a soldier, resulted in the killing of at least 40 Palestinians on August 1.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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The IDF using the Hannibal procedure in Rafah in August during the Gaza war.
The IDF using the Hannibal procedure in Rafah in August during the Gaza war.Credit: Reuters
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The military is expected to decide shortly whether to launch a criminal probe into the implementation of the Hannibal directive on the day 1st Lt. Hadar Goldin was snatched into a tunnel during Operation Protective Edge last summer.

The directive clarifies the procedures to be used immediately following the possible abduction of a soldier. It calls for an intense focus on rescuing the kidnapped soldier, even at the cost of putting his life or the lives of other soldiers at risk. On August 1, after Goldin was grabbed and pulled into the tunnel, the army responded with massive artillery bombardments and air strikes on possible escape routes. At least 40 Palestinians were killed in the Rafah area.

Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni said Tuesday that when a soldier is kidnapped, the directive does not constitute a green light to violate international law or to respond disproportionately. Efroni made the remarks at a conference on international law conducted by the Military Prosecution at Kfar Maccabiah.

Efroni, who gave the conference’s opening lecture, spoke about how the Israel Defense Forces operates in the current legal reality, and addressed the fighting during Protective Edge. He referred to the Hannibal directive being implemented on August 1, which has been dubbed “Black Friday in Rafah,” but said he couldn’t elaborate about the IDF investigation and his own examination of the incident, which is continuing.

“What’s important for me to clarify is that in contrast to some of the reports, the directive does not permit the use of live fire to cause the death of the kidnapped soldier,” Efroni said. “No less important, when a soldier is kidnapped this directive does not permit the violation of international law, or breaches of the requirement to act proportionately and to attack [only] military targets.”

Efroni added that terror groups do not identify their fighting forces and they are often mistaken for civilians, and this was no different during Protective Edge. “Our soldiers are exposed to much greater risk because they are loyal to moral values and to a set of ethics and principles by which terror groups do not conduct themselves,” he said.

The Military Prosecution is investigating 13 exceptional incidents that occurred during Protective Edge, and is drawing up indictments against three combat soldiers suspected of looting during the operation. Efroni said that the investigations into these exceptional battlefield incidents were not aimed “at meeting our legal obligations, but as a reflection of our beliefs and moral values.” He added that the Military Prosecution is independent and “answers only to the law.”

Efroni also addressed the obligation of issuing warnings before a military attack, an issue for which the IDF was criticized by human rights groups during last summer’s fighting. Efroni said the obligatory warnings are widely applied by the IDF. He said the warnings issued to civilians during Protective Edge were effective and gave civilians in the Gaza Strip an opportunity to protect themselves.

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