Avoid capture at all costs, IDF were told

By Anshel Pfeffer, January 29, 2009

Israeli soldiers operating in Gaza had unofficial orders to foil Hamas attempts to capture their comrades, even if it cost a captured soldier’s life.

Throughout the fighting in the Gaza Strip, ground units participating in Operation Cast Lead encountered dozens of booby-trapped houses that had hidden rooms and tunnels specifically designed to spirit away wounded IDF soldiers. In addition, despite pulling back most of its forces from the areas where IDF units operated, Hamas sent snatch-squads into the combat zones in an attempt to achieve what, for them, would have been a major coup in the eyes of the Palestinian public as well as an invaluable bargaining chip.

“One of our main priorities was locating these booby-traps and explosive devices and neutralising them,” said a senior commander in the Combat Engineering Corps. All units operating around Gaza were accompanied by specialist bomb-disposal teams.

In reports that have come out since the war, it has become clear that some commanders instructed their troops to prevent the capture of their comrades, even if it meant endangering their lives. The commander of Golani Brigade’s Battalion 51, Lieutenant Colonel ‘D’ told his soldiers that “[Hamas’s] ultimate strategic weapon” is a kidnapped soldier. “I don’t have to tell you that not one soldier in Battalion 51 is going to be kidnapped, at no cost. Even if that means that he explodes a grenade together with those who try and take him.”

In another case, an IDF tank was ordered to fire shells into a building in which a wounded IDF soldier lay because of reports that a Hamas snatch-squad was also present. The order was given despite the fact that the soldier might still have been alive at the time.

IDF procedure in case of a soldier’s capture is called the Hannibal Directive and includes orders to fire on an enemy group that has abducted an IDF soldier, even if it could endanger the soldier’s life. This is rarely mentioned by official sources and during Operation Cast Lead, the IDF did not acknowledge that the order had been given in any specific case. When Defence Minister Ehud Barak was asked about the Battalion Commander’s order — a recording of which was broadcasted on Channel Ten — he said he was not familiar with the case.

Last updated: 3:18pm, January 29 2009