The chief author of the army’s code of ethics said on Wednesday that the so-called Hannibal Protocol is invariably misinterpreted and that a faulty implementation of the order likely led to the death of an Israeli soldier in Gaza during the war there last summer.
“I don’t want to reveal who the soldier is and in what incident it happened but I have a firm basis for this,” Professor Asa Kasher said at the Tzohar rabbinic conference in Jerusalem.
“Ninety-nine percent of what is said about the order is wrong,” he said.
The Hannibal Protocol was drafted in the summer of 1986, a year after the lopsided Jibril Agreement, in which Israel traded 1,150 security prisoners in exchange for three Israeli soldiers, and several months after the ensuing abduction of the soldiers Yosef Fink and Rafael Alsheikh. The idea was to establish a set procedure, known to all soldiers, to limit the success of any abduction operation against IDF soldiers.
“What we needed was clarity,” former national security adviser Maj. Gen. (res) Yaakov Amidror, one of the three officers who drafted the order, told The Times of Israel last summer.
What arose was a protocol that ordered soldiers to thwart the abduction of a fellow soldier, “even at the price of harming or wounding our soldiers,” but without directly attempting to kill them.
Asked if that meant — as officers often said in south Lebanon — that soldiers are required to open fire with their rifles at a retreating vehicle even if it means putting one of their mates in acute danger, but to refrain from firing, say, a guided missile that would almost surely kill everyone in the vehicle, Amidror said, “Exactly.”
At the conference, Kasher said there is a common refrain, which he has heard far too often among soldiers, that says, “Better a dead soldier than an abducted one.”
He called the notion “scandalous” and asserted that it betrayed a complete ignorance of the emphasis placed on the value of life in the IDF code of ethics.
“The starting point is that the value of life surpasses the value of stopping an abduction,” he said.
The matter rose to the fore on August 1, when Hamas operatives violated a ceasefire and attacked a squad of soldiers from the Givati Brigade, killing two and abducting Lt. Hadar Goldin.
The force on the ground declared “Hannibal,” which triggered massive fire and may, amid the bedlam, have been directly responsible for the deaths of some 40 Palestinian civilians.
The IDF MAG Corps is still investigating the incident, probing whether or not the army’s response in Rafah that morning was carried out within the parameters of proportionality and distinction.
Kasher, speaking to The Times of Israel after the panel, noted that proportionality is determined by the military importance of a certain target and the expected loss of civilian life in pursuing that target.
The Hannibal Protocol can be taken to an extreme if the perception of the soldiers on the ground is that the abduction of a single soldier is a loss of strategic importance.
Rabbi Elazar Goldstein, the author of “Military Jewish Ethics” and a participant on the panel, said he was in Gaza on the morning of the abduction and he heard soldiers say, “That’s it. We lost.”
Kasher, assigning blame to the family of former Hamas prisoner Gilad Shalit — who lobbied for Israel to release many jailed terrorists in exchange for their son — and to retired Justice Eliyahu Winograd, who termed an abduction a strategic event in his inquiry into the Second Lebanon War, said that the motto of “Zero abductees” is “imbecilic” and that Israel would be wise to adopt the American approach to such tactics: no negotiations with terrorists.