IDF to reform controversial anti-kidnapping Hannibal Protocol

The Hannibal Protocol gained worldwide attention in 2014, when numerous Palestinian civilians were killed after IDF initiated a massive counterattack in vain after Hamas attempted kidnap a soldier.

IDF soldiers storm a target during the ground incursion into Gaza (photo credit: IDF)
IDF soldiers storm a target during the ground incursion into Gaza
(photo credit: IDF)
The Hannibal Protocol, which dictates extraordinary tactics and use of force by the IDF to prevent the capture of its soldiers, has been canceled and a new directive will be issued soon, senior security sources told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
The protocol has gained worldwide attention since August 1, 2014, when between 29 and 150 Palestinian civilians were killed when the IDF initiated a massive counterattack to block Hamas fighters who were trying to kidnap IDF soldier Hadar Goldin – who was killed.
Two special characteristics of the protocol are that fire has been directed at the kidnappers even at the risk of killing the IDF soldier being kidnapped and massive firepower is employed, which, while following international law limits, yields a greater risk of larger civilian casualties.
It was created in the 1980s during conflicts with Hezbollah in Lebanon and updated by former IDF chief-of-staff Benny Gantz in 2011 to give field commanders authority to better prevent kidnappings such as that of Gilad Schalit.
But the 2014 Hannibal Protocol incident put the IDF in hot water domestically with some criticizing the idea that it was being too callous in firing in a way that was likely to kill its own soldier and potentially with the International Criminal Court for the many dead Palestinian civilians.
The new procedure also comes after the State Comptroller recently distributed to select government and security officers a draft of its report on the country’s compliance with international law during the 2014 Gaza war, which reportedly recommended canceling the Hannibal Protocol.
Given plans to annul the current order and adopt a new directive, the IDF appears to partially accept the recommendation, though the new directive will incorporate many of the old order’s priorities and tactics.
The main difference would be that the IDF will no longer fire directly on the vehicle of kidnappers who are holding a kidnapped IDF soldier, thereby addressing criticism that they are endangering the soldier’s life.
The IDF, however, will still fire on roads the kidnapping vehicle may try to use to escape, raising the continued risk of substantial collateral damage to civilians. It also will try to close off the area of the kidnapping using other military means.
“If there is a kidnapping, we will try and stop it,” the security source said.
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 Post learned in February that there would be no decision by the IDF for at least for several more months.
The Ciechanover Commission (led by former Foreign Ministry director-general Joseph Ciechanover) has been working for several years on improving Israel’s legal apparatus for dealing with war crimes and related complaints.
In its September 2015 report, it recommended adoption by December 2015, but the Cabinet still has not taken it up.
In an interview with the Israel Bar Association several months ago, former military advocate- general Maj.-Gen. (res.) Danny Efroni addressed the delay, saying: “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.”
There are several causes to what may turn out to be an additional year of delay.
First, comprehensiveness. Though in the media the incident often is referred to as one incident, legally speaking it was a series of separate sub-incidents even if all were somewhat connected.
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 whether this was worthwhile if it would still be left open.
In his interview, Efroni also referred to complex policy issues the incident raised about whether and how the Hannibal Protocol should be initiated, which likely caused further delay.
The IDF’s current decision may lift the delay in this area and pave the way forward for current military advocate-general Brig.-Gen.
Sharon Afek to decide on the 2014 alleged war crimes allegations.
There also was 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 a lesser sense of urgency.
The same was true about the fate of IDF Col. Ofer Winter who gave the order to execute the Hannibal Protocol.
In December 2014, Winter gave a controversial interview about the incident to Yediot Aharonot in which he said: “Those who kidnap need to know they will pay a price,” while an officer under his command said: “The fire was proportionate, and when they kidnap a soldier, all means are kosher.”
Even after the interview, however, the IDF announced in July 2015 that Winter would be promoted to brigadier general, without a huge round of protests, signaling it did not feel heavy pressure to indict him and others in the operation.