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Hannibal is an IDF ‘Putsch’ Against the State

Tonight will be the third critical Haaretz article about the Hannibal Directive which the paper hasn’t chosen to translate and publish in its English edition.  One has to wonder why there’s been relatively little critical of this semi-secret, immoral military regulation in Haaretz’s English edition.  I’m guessing the powers that be don’t want the English-speaking Diaspora audience to have to deal with the moral embarrassment it represents.

Uri Misgav published (Hebrew) a powerful denunciation of Hannibal in yesterday’s Haaretz.  I translated a significant portion of it below.  It begins with the columnist’s critique of the Israeli media campaign which has turned deputy commander “Eitan,” the soldier who rushed into the tunnel into which Hadar Goldin had been dragged by his captors (after being commanded to explode a hand grenade before entering):

Thousands of words which Deputy Eitan dispensed to the Israeli public enable us to understand fully the horror embodied in what ‘s called in the IDF, the Hannibal Directive.  About how radically it’s changed operationally over time.  How it was implemented in Rafah and what’s the significance of its use.  It wasn’t the first time it was used by the IDF.  Not in general and not even in the specific case of Operation Protective Edge.  According to military reports, before the Rafah incident there were between one and three “minor Hannibals.”  But the Rafah Hannibal was the real thing.  They talk about it a great deal, though it seems to me that they’re not seeing the trees for the full, monstrous forest it is…

The Hannibal Directive was developed to sabotage “kidnappings” in the course of battle with Hezbollah…Even the use of the term “kidnapping” is a bit misleading.  We’re really  talking about being taken captive.  Hamas fighters arrested by the IDF are not considered kidnapped.

Whatever the term, Hannibal was devised to respond to a weakness the security apparatus identified within Israeli society at the political level: the sensitivity to the fate of the captives and the missing and even the bodies of the fallen, and the prisoner exchanges which occurred due to this sensitivity.

In reality we’re talking about a mini-putsch.  The army doesn’t trust the State to know what’s the correct thing to do in the case of a captive soldier.  So it [the army] sabotages the very possibility of this happening.

The directive is purposely vaguely defined.  But everyone who’s served in the field in the past twenty years understands what it means:  in order to stop a kidnapping a massive effort must be made, up to and including endangering the life of the captive.  It’s essential above all that he not fall into captivity because then there would be a need to redeem him, God forbid.

The way Hannibal was used in Operation Protective Edge has exposed this picture in all its fulness.  They took a regulation developed for the purpose of a potential pursuit in southern Lebanon (a mountainous, stony, thinly inhabited with the exception of a few villages and small towns) and transferred it to the most densely populated city in the world…

hAnnibal cannibalEven before Rafah, the evidence in the field was clear: Hannibal was meant to take down the captor and the captive; to kill them.  The chance to free someone, tiny to begin with, became a dead letter.  Firing and aerial bombardment and artillery barrages are meant to kill.  In other words, the captive becomes, at the moment the directive is invoked, a dead man.  For all intents and purposes, he is considered part of the cell that captured him.  There is no difference.  In practice, he becomes a terrorist, a Hamasnik.  After he dies it will be possible to praise and eulogize and sanctify him (as Goldin has been).  But first you must ensure he’s dead.

We must pay attention to the insane transformation that’s occurred.  If the IDF once prided itself upon its ethos of not leaving any man behind on the field of battle, even if he was held captive, today it does everything possible to eliminate him.  This isn’t Hannibalism. This is cannibalism.  An army prepared to kill its own.

There have been armies in the past that expected that their troops not fall captive.  To perform hara kiri or to shoot themselves with a bullet to the brain.  But here we’ve taken a step forward: we don’t even give the captive the option [of taking his own life].  We decide for him.

Every Hebrew mother must understand which this means.  Her son will be a hero in Israel when he goes to fight in Gaza.  They’ll embrace him, they’ll sing songs about him, they’ll send him care packages.  But if he has the bad luck to fall captive, they’ll kill him.

THe army is not a democratic body.  Israel too is increasingly shaking off its democratic identity, but in this case it may be worth making the parents sign a form at the induction center; to ask them in the event that their son falls captive, God forbid, would they be interested in the IDF doing eveyrthing possible to eliminate him and prevent an embarrassing prisoner exchange–despite everything they’d prefer he remain alive in Hamas’ hands, if there was a chance to return him home one day…It may even be necessary to ask the fresh recruits if Hannibal is acceptable to them, or perhaps to clarify to them its actual meaning.

For anyone who thinks what’s written here is exagerrated or extreme, let’s return for a moment to the interviews of Deputy Eitan.  According to his account, when he understood Goldin was in the hands of the Hamas cell…he took his unit and decided to pursue it into the tunnel.  He himself attests that he didn’t know at that moment whether Goldin was dead or alive.  He also understood at that time that he was violating clear orders and endangering himself and his troops.  He was so anxious about a soldier being captive, and preventing such a catastrophe, that he took a considered gamble that he might increase the number of captives or dead.

He began by entering with a drawn pistol and afterward was accompanied by his soldiers.  He and his troops laid down indiscriminate fire into the tunnel.  “This is why I joined up, this is why they made me an officer.  I lead the kid next to me.  We proceed and I give permission to open fire with my authorization.  When asked about the chance that the firing would hit Goldin, he answered: “That may be.  But we don’t deliberate.  I never gave an order to fire.  I told him [the subordinate] you identify [the target] and open fire.  Even if it meant killing Hadar…that’s what happens despite our sorrow [about it], it’s preferable [to the alternative].

Explicit words. “Despite our sorrow,” it’s preferable that IDF soldier Hadar Goldin be injured or dead rather than held captive.  This is the Hannibal Directive in all its glory.  In a single sentence.

On a related subject, though IDF “ethicist” seems a supporter of Hannibal, there are religious figures deeply troubled (Hebrew) by its implications.  In fact, two rabbis have written a halachic tract, Jewish Military Ethics, in which they’ve called the directive unethical.  NRG (formerly Maariv, but now the website of the Adelson-owned Makor Rishon), even says:

…The directive is opposed to Jewish ethics and presents very grave moral problems.

Despite the fact that killing an IDF soldier may prevent a future prisoner exchange that may free Palestinian prisoners who may kill Israelis after their release:

It is deeply problematic ethically to take upon ourselves to decision of who may live and who may die.  Recent Jewish history [presumably referring to the Holocaust] proves that there is no benefit to such conduct…

The regulation that it’s permissible to intentionally harm a soldier in order to prevent his falling into captivity is deeply damages the ethical value of mutual responsibility, including comradeship and cohesion of the military unit.  Because if there is a directive to intentionally harm one’s own comrade in arms unit cohesion cannot be preserved.  It turns the men [in the unit] into potential enemies…

The “kidnapped” soldier does not endanger the security of the State due to the price that will be paid for his return because the State isn’t forced to accept this price.  If it does decide to pay it, it isn’t the captive who’s made this decision.

I’ll take the wisdom of these rabbis over a thousand Asa Kashers!

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