Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Hannibal Lives, Israeli Soldiers Die, in Gaza

The Hannibal Procedure, an Israeli military operation in effect since 1986, reads like this: Better a dead Israeli soldier than a captured one.

This post draws on the great investigative journalistic work of Sara Leibovich-Dar here and Uri Avnery's followup article here.

According to Leibovich, in 1986 three senior officers of the Northern Command drew up 'The Hannibal Procedure' as a means of tackling abductions - the three were Yossi Peled, Gabi Ashkenazi and Yaakov Amidror. The need for the procedure arose after the abduction of the soldiers Yosef Fink and Rafael Alsheikh in February of that year.

Testimonies indicate that the Hannibal procedure was fully activated when three soldiers - Sergeant Benny Avraham and Staff Sergeants Omar Sawid and Adi Avitan - were abducted in the Har Dov region along the Lebanon border on October 7, 2000. In line with the procedure, the army was commanded to open fire at 26 vehicles that they suspected of carrying the soldiers.

Leibovich writes that there was huge opposition within the army to the procedure, with many unable to grasp how they were being called upon to kill their comrades.

Why institute such a procedure? According to Avnery, 'when an Israeli soldier is taken prisoner, a huge public demand arises to bring him home, even at the cost of releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. In May 1985, Israel released 1150 Palestinians in return for three Israeli prisoners-of-war, in an exchange known as the "Jibril deal"'. The army was determined not to allow a repeat scenario.

It seems that Hannibal was around in Gaza. See my post on January 26 speaking of how Israeli soldiers confirmed being given orders to kill themselves over being taken hostage in Gaza.

The fact that the Hannibal procedure has been in operation since the mid-80's, continued as of 2003 in Lebanon in spite of official army word that the procedure had been halted, and that the Israeli Military Censor has prevented most publications on the issue would give credence to Hamas' assertion (and Israel's denial) that two kidnapping operations of Israeli soldiers did take place, the first on the third day of the ground invasion and the second on January 5, and that in both cases, the Israeli air force struck and killed the kidnappers and the kidnapped - their own soldiers.

Speaking of the procedure to Leibovich, Peled asserts, "Decisions have to be made that endanger soldiers; sometimes there is no choice. The army is supposed to maintain the state's security as the top priority, not the lives of its soldiers".

In light of war crimes charges being brought against IDF operations in Gaza, Barak promises to provide legal aid to soldiers and to support what he insists is the
"most moral army in the world".

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