COL. OFER WINTER commanded the Givati Brigade during last year’s war in the Gaza Strip..
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Usually the promotion of a decorated IDF colonel, such as the pending promotion of Ofer Winter to brigadier-general and chief of operations of Central Command announced on Monday, does not have implications outside the army.
But Winter is no average colonel.
In late June, the UN Human Rights Council report on the 2014 Gaza conflict essentially labeled Winter a war criminal.
It also heavily implied that his use of the Hannibal Protocol
to thwart the kidnapping of Lt. Hadar Goldin, from the Givati Brigade’s reconnaissance company, in Rafah on August 1 led to the worst alleged Israeli war crimes and the most Palestinian civilian casualties of the war – a disputed number ranging from 29 to around 140.
The Hannibal Protocol supposedly allows commanders to take aggressive action, including endangering the life of a captured soldier, to foil the capture.
The report quoted a controversial December 2014 interview Givati Brigade commander Winter gave about the incident to Yediot Aharonot in which he said, “Those who kidnap need to know they will pay a price,” and an officer under his command said, “The fire was proportionate, and when they kidnap a soldier, all means are kosher.”
Next, the report interpreted these and other statements and the number of civilians and civilian vehicles hit as proof that the IDF attacked in a massively disproportionately manner, overly worried about blocking a soldier from being kidnapped.
In April, the IDF announced that a non-legal General Staff investigation found that Winter and those under his command had acted lawfully and that if there were errors, they were non-legal ones, such as a friendly-fire incident, and related to a very complex situation when Hamas violated a cease-fire.
The IDF legal division itself has been reviewing the incident on an initial basis for around 10 months, but has still not decided whether to order a full criminal investigation or to close the file on the matter.The Jerusalem Pos
t has learned that Israel seriously considered making its decision on the incident or portions of the incident public before the UNHRC report came out, but ultimately took a wait and see approach, likely to figure out where the document would hit the IDF hardest.
Winter’s promotion means that even before the IDF legal division publishes its final conclusions of the incident, it is very likely that the army will clear Winter personally and his ordering and implementation of the Hannibal Protocol during the incident generally.
It would be grossly irrational for the IDF to promote Winter if it knew there was still a serious chance of its own legal division indicting him.
There is also an outside shot that all of this is a way for the IDF General Staff to indirectly pressure the legal division to lay off Winter.
But IDF legal division head Maj.- Gen. Danny Efroni has appeared to act independently, already ordering 22 other criminal investigations of soldiers’ actions during the war.
All of this does not mean that some of the soldiers involved in specific subparts of the Goldin incident might not have issues.
But the bigger question was always whether a top commander like Winter would face charges and whether the Hannibal Protocol itself would come under fire.
Yet, even as Winter is probably in the clear domestically, the decision to clear him likely puts Israel closer to a collision course with the International Criminal Court, which many say is likely to adopt the UNHRC report’s conclusions.
Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Justice Ministry responded for comment on the issue,
The IDF knows this, so its decision to promote Winter anyway may signal that Israel now views the UNHRC report and ICC intervention as less of a threat, or at least one it can cope with.