Last week, suspicions that the Israeli army used a controversial military procedure that may have led to the deaths of civilians during Hamas terrorist attacks gained new momentum.
The reason is an investigation by the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth published last Friday (12). According to her, the country’s forces may have applied the so-called “Hannibal protocol” —banned in 2016— in situations involving citizens who were not part of the Army on the morning of October 7th.
The directive seeks to prevent the capture of Israeli soldiers by enemy troops at any cost, even if it harms Tel Aviv’s own forces. Depending on the interpretation, this would even mean the death of kidnapped soldiers.
In addition to citing flaws in Israel’s command system and widespread lack of communication amid the attacks, Yedioth Ahronoth maintains that the Army ordered the return of terrorists to the Gaza Strip to be “prevented at any cost.”
This may have been interpreted as a carte blanche to open fire on vehicles heading towards Palestinian territory, even though there were suspicions that the cars were carrying civilians.
The newspaper states that the command was sent to all military units. According to him, even though the name “Hannibal” was not mentioned, the directive calls into question the Army’s assurances that the protocol was in fact terminated eight years ago.
Yedioth Ahronoth cites a case that took place between the settlements of Otaf, in southern Israel, and the Gaza Strip. In that stretch, around 70 vehicles were targeted by Israeli troops on October 7, in an attack probably carried out by a helicopter. The offensive reportedly killed a thousand Palestinian fighters, but it is not known how many hostages also died as a result of the operation, the report says.
When questioned by the newspaper, the Israeli Army highlighted that the current situation is one of war. “The Israel Defense Forces will conduct a detailed and in-depth investigation into the matter to clarify the details when the operational situation permits and will publish its findings to the public,” he responded.
Another case, which had been discussed by the local press since last year, is what allegedly happened in the Be’eri kibbutz, less than 5 km away from the Gaza Strip. The suspicion is mainly based on the testimony of Yasmin Porat, one of the survivors of the attack who was taken hostage inside a house in the community and later released.
In an interview with an Israeli broadcaster, Porat stated that he told an Israeli agent at the time of the invasion that 40 terrorists and 14 hostages were in the residence. Even with this information, she said, the military would have targeted the building.
The site was hit by two projectiles launched by an Israeli tank. Hadas Dagan, the only hostage who was inside the house at the time of the attack and survived, confirmed Porat’s testimony according to the local press.
In a report published at the end of December in The New York Times, General Barak Hiram, responsible for the fighting in that area, also confirmed that he ordered his subordinates to “invade [a casa]even at the cost of civilian casualties” at the time.
Created in 1986 after the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, the “Hannibal protocol” was kept secret for years by the country’s military censorship, which strived to prevent public mobilization on the issue. In 2003, however, it came to light following an investigation by Haaretz.
That year, the newspaper heard from a doctor who had come into contact with the directive while serving in southern Lebanon — a revelation that caused intense debate in Israeli society, despite the information being officially denied by the Army.
The protocol continued to resonate more than ten years after that discovery. In 2014, for example, Yedioth Ahronoth published an opinion piece by commentator Uri Arad in which he harshly criticized the procedure and described it as “the principle of fascism in Israel”.
“The sanctity of the individual’s life is no longer important. Now, instead of the government serving its citizens, it is the citizens who are forced to pay with their lives to serve the government’s interests. The name for this is simply fascism,” wrote Arad.
In 2016, the strategy was changed, but the text detailing it was not made public, according to the Israeli press. Now, seven years after its supposed banishment, it is being discussed again.
“There is no more justified demand than that of the relatives of those killed in the Be’eri kibbutz incident to investigate the Army’s actions and receive answers about the circumstances of their loved ones’ deaths,” wrote Haaretz in an editorial published on 8 of January.
“The Israel Defense Forces must give themselves and the public an explanation of the Army’s conduct on October 7 […] Above all, it must be disclosed whether the so-called ‘Hannibal protocol’ (…) was used against the Israelis held hostage in that house,” the newspaper said.
Haaretz also argued that the investigation should be conducted at the current time, with the war in progress. “These responses are relevant to the fate of the 136 hostages who are still, after 95 days, in the hands of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.”
In December, Israel admitted to having mistakenly killed three hostages from the country held by the terrorist group. They were holding a white flag when they were hit.