To IDF Chief of Staff: Clear the Fog Over the 'Hannibal Directive'

Time has come for combat soldiers, parents and citizens to know the truth about procedure which seems to be less about saving captive soldiers than about killing them together with their captors.

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was feared captured in the Gaza Strip until he was declared dead on Sunday.
2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was feared captured in the Gaza Strip until he was declared dead on Sunday.
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

Dear Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz:

I would like to write to you personally and publicly to ask you to clarify the exact nature of the “Hannibal Directive.” I am aware that until now you have avoided expressing fundamental, clear moral statements, even when there was a clear need for it. And when you did do so, you were burnt by it (such as in your “anemones speech,” in which you called on residents of the south to return home too soon).

Nonetheless, during your tenure, the impression arose that you were blessed with moderation and calm thinking. The question is simple: Within the framework of the Hannibal Directive to prevent the abduction of a soldier, is the IDF supposed to also harm the captive and ensure his death, while at the same time undertaking acts of punishment and revenge against the civilian population in whose territory the abduction took place? This is an important moral and operational question. So far I have not succeeded in getting a clear answer to it.

This week I asked the Defense Minister’s bureau, and I was ignored. The IDF Spokesman gave me an unclear, evasive response. You are the only address left to me.

The full fog of war encompasses the Hannibal Directive. Its authors claim time after time that the life of the abducted soldier is more important than preventing the abduction. The top of the chain of command lines up with them. Even the commander of the Givati infantry brigade, Col. Ofer Winter, in whose sector the directive was put into action during Operation Protective Edge – and who is not known for meekness – declared after the war that “everything we did was with the understanding that we were capable of bringing Hadar Goldin back alive.”

But the soldiers and commanders in the field who have run into the Hannibal Directive over the past two decades testify to the exact opposite. And Winter’s own senior officers revealed in an interview for Rosh Hashanah, which was coordinated and approved by the IDF Spokesman’s office, their own truth of what happened on the “Black Friday” of Rafah.

Here is a sampling of what they said: “We acted how they taught us and with discretion. ... When you enter an situation like that you prefer a dead soldier and not a soldier in the captivity of Hamas, like a Shalit 2. You prefer a corpse and not an abducted soldier. ... We made it clear to the forces many times about the threat of capture and the goal to disrupt it if it happens – while attacking the enemy even at the price of harming your friend. I told myself – even if I bring back a body, the important thing is to bring back the missing ...”

Dear Mr. Chief of Staff, your intervention here is needed. One possibility is that there is a lack of understanding of the orders and that the IDF ethos concerning not abandoning soldiers has been reformulated in the field to say, “We don’t leave a living soldier behind in the field.”

The second possibility is that in the army there is an official, written Torah, and an unofficial, practical Torah. In Rafah, planes and tanks were put into action and artillery was fired. Smoke was fed into the tunnel into which the abductors dragged Goldin, and the IDF squad that went after him fired live ammunition.

This is not how an army that wants to save a captive soldier acts. This is how an army that wants to make sure the captive and his abductors do not remain alive acts.

I know that you listened in on the radio to the command of the battle in Rafah, and that you also explained afterwards in a number of closed forums that there is a difference between Hannibal during routine operations and Hannibal during wartime. Please clarify the picture fully, Lt. Gen. Gantz. The time has come for combat soldiers, parents and citizens to know the truth, and then we can deal with it.

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