Israel Rescinds ‘Maximum Force’ Order Designed To Prevent Soldiers’ Capture

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Israel’s highest ranking military officer has rescinded a general order that allows for heavy use of force to prevent its soldiers from being captured.

Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), has called for a change to the so-called “Hannibal Protocol,” a general order that gives soldiers wide latitude to prevent the capture of fellow soldiers, even if it means putting them in harm’s way. An IDF spokesman told reporters Tuesday that the order will be replaced with a new directive that will more accurately reflect capture situations.

Hannibal intended to prevent Israel’s adversaries, like Hezbollah or Hamas, from being able to use captured soldiers as leverage against the Israeli government. The secretive order was allegedly created in 1986, but was not implemented until 2000. It is believed to have been named in honor of the Carthaginian leader Hannibal, who poisoned himself before the Roman empire was able to capture him.

Officially, the order does not allow IDF soldiers to intentionally kill a captured comrade. It would allow the IDF to shoot at an enemy that has captured a soldier, even if that soldier is at risk of being injured. Still, there are some within Israeli military circles that recognize that killing a soldier would prevent adversaries from blackmailing the government.

Hannibal has been implemented several times since 2000, including during Israel’s most recent conflict with Hamas in Gaza in 2014. One of the most notable cases involved the capture of Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was taken in the southern Gaza town of Rafah on Aug. 1, 2014. Once the protocol was put into effect, the IDF engaged in a heavy artillery barrage on what was believed to be the location of Goldin’s kidnappers. Tanks and aircraft strikes followed, destroying any vehicle leaving the area.

The attack left 40 dead, according to IDF reports. Officials later determined that Goldin was likely killed in action — by which side is a hotly contested issue — and his remains are believed to be in Hamas custody to this day.

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