No decision on Hannibal Protocol incident likely for several more months

In the Hannibal Protocol incident between 29 to 150 Palestinian civilians were killed.

Sec.-Lt. Hadar Goldin. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sec.-Lt. Hadar Goldin.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Despite an opening in early June 2015 to decide whether to fully criminally investigate the most controversial alleged war crimes incident of the 2014 Gaza war, The Jerusalem Post has learned that there will likely be no decision by the IDF at least for several more months.
In the Hannibal Protocol 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 Lt. Hadar Goldin in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.
The protocol dictates a massive use of firepower to prevent the kidnapping of 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.
On Thursday, the Post questioned the army as to whether a decision would be reached by the end of April, which would meet a deadline of 21 months after the incident set by the state’s Ciechanover Commission – led by former Foreign Ministry director-general Joseph Ciechanover – in its September 2015 report.
The commission has been working the last several years on making improvements to the country’s legal apparatus for dealing with war crimes and related complaints.
While there was no official response, the IDF likely does not view itself as bound by the 21-month deadline since the report is yet to be adopted by the government as official policy. Though the report had recommended adoption by December 2015, the cabinet still has not taken it up.
The Post has learned that the government may adopt the report in the coming month or so, but as the report came subsequent to the 2014 war and the new Military Advocate General Brig.-Gen. Sharon Afek is still getting caught up on the incident and asking for additional evidentiary clarifications, there is no expectation of a decision being announced in the coming months, let alone by the end of April.
In an IDF briefing with military reporters about ongoing investigations on Wednesday, the IDF would not even discuss the details of the incident.
In a recent interview with the Bar Association, which has not yet been reported on in the English media, former MAG Maj.-Gen. (res.) Danny Efroni addressed the delay, “I regret that the proceedings have been drawn out. Our original intent... was to conduct examinations in short and set periods, but in actuality we departed from this.”
He added, “this is not the time to go into the reasons for this, but what is really important is to learn from the experience and to ensure that in the next round, if there is one, we will know how to be more efficient and faster with all of the cases and not just most of them.”
There are several causes to what may come out to an additional year of delay.
First, there is comprehensiveness.
Though in the media the incident is referred to often as one incident, legally speaking it was a myriad of separate sub-incidents, even if all of them were somewhat connected.
Back in early June 2015, a decision on some of these separate sub-incidents could have been finalized and published, but it would have been incomplete on other sub-incidents.
Many questioned if this was worth it if the case would still be left open.
In his interview, Efroni also referred to complex policy issues that the incident raised about whether and how the Hannibal Protocol should be initiated, which likely caused further delay.
There was also a desire to wait and see what the UNHRC’s late June 2015 report would say about the war and the incident and once the report passed without igniting a new wave of pressure on Israel, there was less of a sense of urgency.
Still a decision may not go far beyond several months as the 21 months in the Ciechanover report was accepted in principle by the IDF and officials, including Efroni, recognize that continued dragging out of the decision has the potential to damage the country’s overall image of validly investigating itself.