IDF used protocol that may have risked civilian lives in Hamas attack

Published Date: 08-Jul-2024 | 05:26 PM

In the initial chaos of the Hamas attack on 7 October, Israel’s armed forces employed what is known as the Hannibal protocol, a directive to use force to prevent the kidnapping of soldiers even at the expense of hostages’ lives, according to a report.

The Israel daily Haaretz reported on Sunday, nine months to the day after the assault in which about 1,200 people were killed and another 250 abducted to the Gaza Strip, that the operational procedure was used at three army facilities attacked by Hamas, potentially endangering civilians as well.

Another message given to Israel’s Gaza division at 11.22am, about five hours after the attack began, ordered: “Not a single vehicle can return to Gaza.”

A southern command source told the paper: “Everyone knew by then that such vehicles could be carrying kidnapped civilians or soldiers … Everyone knew what it meant to not let any vehicles return to Gaza.”

Haaretz said it was still unclear whether civilians or soldiers were harmed as a result of these orders, or how many, but documents and testimonies of soldiers, as well as mid-level and senior Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officers, suggested the practice was used in a “widespread” manner on 7 October amid a lack of clear information as the IDF struggled to respond to the attack.

In response to the report, an IDF spokesperson said internal investigations into what transpired on 7 October and the preceding period were under way. “The aim of these investigations is to learn and to draw lessons which could be used in continuing the battle. When these investigations are concluded, the results will be presented to the public with transparency,” the statement said.

The Haaretz investigation is the latest reporting by Israeli media shedding light on failures in military intelligence and operational responses around the Hamas offensive, the deadliest single attack on Israeli soil since the founding of the state in 1948.

Israel’s ensuing campaign in Gaza has still to achieve several of its stated objectives, leading to fears the conflict is on the brink of morphing into sustained insurgency-style warfare. More than 38,000 people have been killed by Israeli operations in the Palestinian territory, according to the local health ministry, and almost all of the 2.3 million population have been displaced from their homes in a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.

Allegations first surfaced in January that the IDF may have used the Hannibal protocol to prevent Hamas fighters from returning to Gaza with hostages. While the directive has only ever been used in relation to soldiers, a high-profile incident at the Be’eri kibbutz, in which a brigadier general ordered a tank to fire shells at a house with Hamas militants and 14 Israelis inside, killing 13 of the hostages, has raised questions about operational procedures causing civilian casualties.

The Israeli military probably killed more than a dozen of its own citizens during the 7 October attack, a UN investigation found last month.

Also on Sunday, Israel’s Channel 12 reported that a sophisticated early-warning system on the Gaza border developed by Unit 8200, part of the IDF’s military intelligence directorate, had not been properly maintained and was known to frequently malfunction. A dossier presented by Unit 8200 officers before 7 October detailed Hamas’s elaborate invasion plans, including raids on Israeli towns and military posts, hostage scenarios and potential outcomes, the report said.

In November, members of the women-only “spotters” unit deployed at two points along the Gaza perimeter said they had tried to warn their superiors on numerous occasions about unusual activity along the border fence before Hamas’s attack, but had been ignored. Fifteen spotters were killed on 7 October and another six taken hostage.


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