Israel's Military Chief Orders to Revoke Controversial 'Hannibal' Directive

The order calls for soldiers to thwart captivity even at the expense of a fellow trooper's life. Many civilian casualties were blamed on its implementation in a 2014 Gaza war.

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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
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Israel's military chief has recently ordered to revoke the so-called Hannibal procedure, aimed at averting soldiers' capture even at a risk of endangering them, and formulate a new protocol in its place.

A senior source in the Israel Defense Forces said Monday night that Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot's orders were given several weeks ago, before the distribution of a draft state comptroller report which also relates to the Hannibal procedure.

Other chapters of the comptroller's findings, whose drafts have been released as well, deal with issues like the handling of Hamas’ cross-border attack tunnels and the functioning of the diplomatic-security cabinet.

Sources who read the latest chapter said the most noteworthy recommendation relates to the Hannibal procedure, which dates back to the 1980s but was revised after Hamas abducted soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006.

Currently, the procedure requires soldiers to try and thwart being captured even if doing so – for instance, by shooting at the abductors – might endanger the captured soldier’s life.

Though the procedure doesn’t permit soldiers to intentionally kill a kidnapped comrade, many officers and soldiers in the field have interpreted it in this way.

In various military forums in recent years, brigade and battalion commanders have said they believe it’s permissible to kill a kidnapped soldier in order to deprive the enemy – groups like Hezbollah or Hamas – of the opportunity to put pressure on Israel to release hundreds of prisoners, as in the past.

Debate over the Hannibal procedure erupted anew in the 2014 war, when Hamas captured Lt. Hadar Goldin, in a battle dubbed Black Friday. His comrades, with permission from their brigade, division and theater commanders, launched a manhunt that involved the use of massive firepower in the town of Rafah.

As a result, dozens of Palestinians were killed, many of them apparently civilians. Goldin was later declared dead, but Hamas still holds his remains.

Due to the large number of Palestinian casualties and the use of such heavy firepower in a civilian area, the incident sparked criticism of Israel abroad. Military prosecutors have investigated the case without deciding whether to launch criminal proceedings. Given how much time has elapsed, such proceedings look increasingly unlikely.

In his report, Shapira wrote that different ranks and units had different interpretations of the procedure. Given the prospec its continued use may contravene international law, he recommended that the army abolish the procedure.

Shapira has recommended that Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot weigh whether such a procedure is needed at all, and if so, whether it could be embedded – as it really is, not as it’s misinterpreted – in other army orders.

Shapira and the head of his office’s military affairs department, Yossi Beinhorn, added that 'Hannibal' seemed better suited to averting capture in peacetime than during conflict.

During wartime, the army must consider principles of international law such as the distinction (between civilians and combatants) and proportionality in employing firepower, he recommends.

Shapira's comments echo the claims of some army officers immediately after Black Friday, who felt that the government and public had overreacted to Goldin’s abduction, 

Shapira also said Eisenkot should consider requiring any revisions of the procedure to be authorized at a higher level. Currently its use requires only a brigade commander's authoriziation.

The revised procedure must take into account the incident’s severity, the environment in which it occurred and the risk of escalation, and should be drafted in conjunction with the military advocate general, Shapira said. The new orders must then be made clear to the troops.

The IDF Spokesperson's Unit said in response that the army has received the draft report and will study it in the coming days.

"The IDF will comment on the draft report directly and not through the media," a statement said. 

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