Ya'alon comes out against IDF probe of 'Hannibal protocol' employed during Gaza war

Against backdrop of investigations and IDF leaks, Defense Minister: "This was an operation where decisions were made that does not warrant a criminal investigation."

By
January 8, 2015 16:20
Moshe Yaalon

Moshe Yaalon. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

In a surprising move, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon came out publicly on Thursday against the idea of the IDF opening a criminal investigation into its alleged use of the so-called Hannibal Protocol following the abduction of soldier Hadar Goldin on August 1 during Operation Protective Edge.

“The military police are not probing the actions of the Givati Brigade at Rafah, and I hope that no one will decide to do so,” Ya’alon said. “This was an operation where decisions were made that do not warrant a criminal investigation.”

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The statement was highly unusual, as Military Advocate- General Danny Efroni has suggested he is seriously considering a full criminal investigation, and Ya’alon’s statement could be seen by some to be undermining Efroni’s independence.

The controversy is even more volatile since in recent days the Palestinians have aggressively moved closer to filing war crimes complaints against IDF soldiers with the International Criminal Court, and one of the IDF’s chief defenses against ICC intervention is that its own investigations are independent and objective.

Yesh Din director-general Neta Patrick responded, saying: “The statements of the defense minister are a severe intervention in the investigative process and prove that one cannot rely on the internal investigative apparatus of the IDF regarding investigations” of the Gaza war.

She said “the attorney-general is obligated to reject the statements” of Ya’alon and “to act to establish an independent and effective mechanism that will be capable of searching for the truth.”

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said, “It is prohibited for the defense minister to influence the military advocate-general’s decision on whether to order a criminal investigation.”

Yesh Din, ACRI and other critics have argued that an independent body, not the IDF, should investigate war crimes allegations.

The Hannibal Protocol, which the army has never officially described, is thought to involve massive use of infantry, artillery and air fire against a wide area in which the IDF believes the enemy is trying to make off with a captured soldier.

Allegations are that IDF fire killed anywhere from the mid- 30s to around 100 to as many as 150.

Mid-thirties would be based on reports of around 70 total dead and on IDF estimates that around 50 percent of Palestinian dead in the Gaza war were civilians, though there are also several unofficial reports that the IDF put the number at 40.

But the IDF has not given an official number pending its preliminary investigation and decision on whether to fully criminally investigate.

Around 100 would be 80% of the UN’s 130 figure, and 150 would be 80% of some NGOs 190 figure, with 80% being the highest estimated percentage of civilians estimated by some NGOs as killed in Gaza.

No one, neither Israel nor the UN nor the NGOs have given an official number of civilians killed out of the total dead to date.

The Attorney-General’s Office refused to comment and no other government officials publicly came to the military advocate-general’s defense.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office also declined to comment in this instance, though on December 28 Efroni spoke out against “criticism” against “military law enforcement authorities” on a related controversy.

Ya’alon, who explained in detail why he believes the incident should be handled by operational debriefings and not with a criminal investigation, is not the first to controversially go on record regarding the incident.

The internal war over whether the IDF would criminally investigate or indict those soldiers involved in the incident broke out into public view as early as late September when Givati Brigade commanders and soldiers, unusually, gave public interviews describing their actions.

Then, in late December, someone made an unauthorized release of classified recordings of the Givati Brigade’s operations to Yediot Aharonot from August 1 in real time, providing aggressive anonymous comments directly against the IDF legal division opening criminal investigations.

The anonymous commentators, presumed by most of the media to be Givati soldiers, said even more explicitly that they would not go down for army lawyers’ “Schabas tax.”

This is a reference to the idea that IDF lawyers need to criminally investigate a certain number of soldiers merely to satisfy international pressure (symbolized by the UN’s Schabas inquiry into the Gaza war) to explain the deaths of more than 2,000 Palestinians, of whom 50%- 80% were allegedly civilians.

The unusual leak led to an IDF announcement of a spinoff investigation into who leaked the classified recordings, regardless of the decision on whether to fully criminally investigate the Hannibal Protocol incident.

The day after the recordings release, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz and Ya’alon took the unusual step of publicly slamming the unauthorized leak, then walked a fine line between saying they fully support the Givati fighters, while saying that the investigations must be completed without pressure.

Ya’alon’s latest statement put him clearly on the side of the soldiers.In a surprising move, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon came out publicly on Thursday against the idea of the IDF opening a criminal investigation into its alleged use of the so-called Hannibal Protocol following the abduction of soldier Hadar Goldin on August 1 during Operation Protective Edge.

“The military police are not probing the actions of the Givati Brigade at Rafah, and I hope that no one will decide to do so,” Ya’alon said. “This was an operation where decisions were made that do not warrant a criminal investigation.”

The statement was highly unusual, as Military Advocate- General Danny Efroni has suggested he is seriously considering a full criminal investigation, and Ya’alon’s statement could be seen by some to be undermining Efroni’s independence.

The controversy is even more volatile since in recent days the Palestinians have aggressively moved closer to filing war crimes complaints against IDF soldiers with the International Criminal Court, and one of the IDF’s chief defenses against ICC intervention is that its own investigations are independent and objective.

Yesh Din director-general Neta Patrick responded, saying: “The statements of the defense minister are a severe intervention in the investigative process and prove that one cannot rely on the internal investigative apparatus of the IDF regarding investigations” of the Gaza war.

She said “the attorney-general is obligated to reject the statements” of Ya’alon and “to act to establish an independent and effective mechanism that will be capable of searching for the truth.”

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said, “It is prohibited for the defense minister to influence the military advocate-general’s decision on whether to order a criminal investigation.”

Yesh Din, ACRI and other critics have argued that an independent body, not the IDF, should investigate war crimes allegations.

The Hannibal Protocol, which the army has never officially described, is thought to involve massive use of infantry, artillery and air fire against a wide area in which the IDF believes the enemy is trying to make off with a captured soldier.

Allegations are that IDF fire killed anywhere from the mid- 30s to around 100 to as many as 150.

Mid-thirties would be based on reports of around 70 total dead and on IDF estimates that around 50 percent of Palestinian dead in the Gaza war were civilians, though there are also several unofficial reports that the IDF put the number at 40.

But the IDF has not given an official number pending its preliminary investigation and decision on whether to fully criminally investigate.

Around 100 would be 80% of the UN’s 130 figure, and 150 would be 80% of some NGOs 190 figure, with 80% being the highest estimated percentage of civilians estimated by some NGOs as killed in Gaza.

No one, neither Israel nor the UN nor the NGOs have given an official number of civilians killed out of the total dead to date.

The Attorney-General’s Office refused to comment and no other government officials publicly came to the military advocate-general’s defense.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office also declined to comment in this instance, though on December 28 Efroni spoke out against “criticism” against “military law enforcement authorities” on a related controversy.

Ya’alon, who explained in detail why he believes the incident should be handled by operational debriefings and not with a criminal investigation, is not the first to controversially go on record regarding the incident.

The internal war over whether the IDF would criminally investigate or indict those soldiers involved in the incident broke out into public view as early as late September when Givati Brigade commanders and soldiers, unusually, gave public interviews describing their actions.

Then, in late December, someone made an unauthorized release of classified recordings of the Givati Brigade’s operations to Yediot Aharonot from August 1 in real time, providing aggressive anonymous comments directly against the IDF legal division opening criminal investigations.

The anonymous commentators, presumed by most of the media to be Givati soldiers, said even more explicitly that they would not go down for army lawyers’ “Schabas tax.”

This is a reference to the idea that IDF lawyers need to criminally investigate a certain number of soldiers merely to satisfy international pressure (symbolized by the UN’s Schabas inquiry into the Gaza war) to explain the deaths of more than 2,000 Palestinians, of whom 50%- 80% were allegedly civilians.

The unusual leak led to an IDF announcement of a spinoff investigation into who leaked the classified recordings, regardless of the decision on whether to fully criminally investigate the Hannibal Protocol incident.

The day after the recordings release, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz and Ya’alon took the unusual step of publicly slamming the unauthorized leak, then walked a fine line between saying they fully support the Givati fighters, while saying that the investigations must be completed without pressure.

Ya’alon’s latest statement put him clearly on the side of the soldiers.


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