Israelis demonstrate in support of the 2014 war in Gaza.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Something bizarre and unheard of happened in the IDF in September and December 2014.
A combination of the IDF Spokesman’s Office, operational commanders and their allies leaked classified operational details, including a real-time internal recording of communications, to the media regarding the Hannibal Protocol incident.
In the August 1, 2014 Gaza war incident, between 29 to 150 Palestinian civilians were killed when the IDF initiated a massive counterattack to block Hamas fighters who were trying to escape with and kidnap IDF soldier Hadar Goldin.
The protocol dictates a massive use of firepower to prevent the kidnapping of IDF soldiers and the level of firepower used and the number of civilians killed has brought massive global criticism, though the IDF has leaked narratives in the press suggesting that the incident was highly complex.
Not only were some of the leaks potentially criminal, and the IDF investigated them, but they also provided fodder for the International Criminal Court should it decide to intervene in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, including outing specific soldiers and officers by name as potential defendants.The Jerusalem Post
learned at the time that certain legal officials within the IDF and the government were taken aback by the decision to reveal classified information about an ongoing investigation or were even vehemently opposed.
In 2014 when the leaks broke, the Post was given multiple contradictory accounts in real time of whether the leaks were authorized or unauthorized and how in dispute the issue was. Around a year-and- a-half later, Monday’s biting report by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira has revealed the larger battle over the issue, which dated back to at least 2012. It is now clear that, behind the scenes, there was a multi-year battle between the IDF legal division on one side and the IDF Spokesman’s Office and generals on the other side over disclosing information surrounding high-profile investigations and incidents.
As early as 2012, former Judge Advocate General Maj.-Gen. (res.) Danny Efroni called illegal then- OC Central Command Maj.-Gen.
Avi Mizrahi’s policy of combating false media accounts about investigations by putting out real details of ongoing investigations to reporters.
Efroni said this policy could obstruct the investigations and undermine finding the truth.
He sounded the alarm again in 2013, confronting the IDF Spokesman’s Office directly and sending a copy of his letter to then-IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Benny Gantz.
Another legal official sounded the alarm once again in May 2014.
While the report does not discuss the 2014 Gaza war, it seems to connect the dots decisively that any fight between the IDF Spokesman’s office and the IDF legal division over releasing details of the Hannibal Protocol incident were just a continuation of the ongoing fight.
The IDF Spokesman responded to the report by reassuring that, as of January 2015, it and the IDF legal division have been finally on the same page.
That may be true as long as things stay quiet and politics and diplomacy are not involved.
But when next the ICC case, members of Knesset or popular senior commanders are involved, the focused interests of the IDF legal division to anticipate issues from the ICC and to run its investigations without domestic pressure may just be too opposed to the IDF Spokesman’s more varied interests to avoid a clash.
In the Hannibal Protocol incident, the spokesman’s unit worried far more about convincing domestic Israeli opinion that everything had been done to save Goldin and prevent his capture and to convey that it had been a messy fight, than it did about the ICC.
No censure from the comptroller or letters from the MAG will erase those battle-lines.