An Israeli Defense Forces soldier may have been killed during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza due to insufficient understanding of the procedure implemented when a soldier is believed to have been abducted.
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That dramatic revelation was made on Wednesay by Prof. Asa Kasher, author of the IDF’s ethical code of conduct. He was addressing a conference on state and society organized by Tzohar, a moderate rabbinical organization.
The IDF invoked the so-called Hannibal Directive, a protocol used when a soldier has been abducted, following the disappearance of Lt. Hadar Goldin in Rafah on Friday August 1, 2104. The day has become known as Black Friday, due to the high number of Palestinian deaths that ensued. Goldin was subsequently pronounded dead, though his body has never been recovered.
Kasher did not tie the incident to Goldin, saying only that there was a “concrete basis” to believe that an IDF force acted improperly after a suspected abduction during last summer’s fighting – leading to the death of a soldier.
The details of the Hannibal Directive are classified. “It is important for me to make clear, as opposed to some of the reports, that the directive does not allow using live fire with the goal of bringing about the death of an abducted soldier,” Military Advocate General, Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni said last year following Black Friday.
Kasher reiterated that point on Thursday, saying that it is forbidden to kill an abducted soldier. “The Hannibal Directive forbids killing the soldier with prior intent and even forbids endangering him greatly,” he explained.
“It may be possible to shoot in the direction of the terrorists, but it is forbidden to shoot in order to kill the terrorists and also the soldier. It is immoral, it is unethical, and it is also illegal. It is prima facie an illegal order,” he added.
Kasher did not provide details on the incident, which he said he read about in an unclassified military document. "There are not rumors made up by soldiers or articles in the newspaper, but an IDF document describing the incident," he told Haaretz. "I am not saying that the Hannibal Directive was announced but that a commander's decision definitely got a soldier, who was in danger of being abducted, killed."
This example, he claims, is only the tip of the iceberg. "This is horrifying. There is a prevalent idea in the military today that intentionally killing a soldier is permitted." The fact that many in the army, soldiers as well as high-ranking commanders, think that everything should be done to prevent the abduction of a soldier was "outrageous in relations to human life," he said. The directive, he added, clearly states that the life of a soldier is more important than the preventing his abduction.
Previous statements by IDF officers and commanders have contradicted the position taken by both Kasher and Efroni. Some said they knew of cases in which the life of an abducted soldier was endangered by the response of other troops. Interviewed after Protective Edge by the Ynet website, Givati infantry brigade officers said they had been told of such fire on “Black Friday,” after Goldin’s suspected abduction.
“When you enter such an incident, you prefer a body and not a kidnapped soldier,” said Major D., commander of the Givati anti-tank company at the time. “We made it clear many times to the troops about the threat of abduction, and the goal is to disrupt it if it happens – while hitting the enemy even at the price of harming your friend.”
“I told myself, even if I bring [back] a body, the main thing is to bring back the missing [soldier]. In such an incident, you do everything in order not to put the entire country into the whirlwind of Gilad Shalit,” D added.
A senior officer on the IDF General Staff said the gaps between the clear statements on the Hannibal Directive by those who know it, and what the commanders in the field say, proves that it needs be made clear to the soldiers involved in the fighting what is required of them in case a soldier is abducted.