In a rare admittance of the use of the so-called ‘Hannibal Directive’, in which Israeli soldiers kill their fellow soldiers to avoid their capture, an Israeli military officer admitted in an interview with the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahranoth that he ordered a mass bombardment of parts of Rafah during the Israeli invasion, last month, in order to ensure the death of an Israeli soldier who he believed had been captured.The Rafah bombardment lasted for three straight days, from August 1st to 4th, and resulted in at least 114 deaths of civilians, in a bid to kill an Israeli soldier that Winter believed had been captured.
It turned out later that the soldiers had never been captured, but had been killed in an engagement with Hamas fighters, on August 1st.
The civilians killed in that bombardment included a number of families who were crushed to death when their homes were hit by airstrikes – like the Zo’rob family, who lost five children, including 7-year-old twins Amir and Odai, their 8-year-old brother Khaled, 10-year-old Shahd and 12-year-old Rawan.
In his interview with Yedioth Ahranoth, Colonel Ofer Winter called the civilian population in Gaza “a partner of terror” that “gets what they choose”.
Journalist Rania Khalek with the Electronic Intifada wrote, “Just as a temporary three-day humanitarian ceasefire negotiated by Egypt and the United States went into effect on the morning of Friday, 1 August, a unit of soldiers from the Israeli army’s Givati Brigade conducted a tunnel incursion in Rafah, provoking fire from Palestinian resistance fighters.
“Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the ensuing firefight and another, Hadar Goldin, went missing. It was later determined that Goldin died in the battle but, in the immediate aftermath, the Israeli army operated under the assumption that he had been captured.
“Ofer Winter was napping when he woke up to news of Goldin’s possible capture. He told Yediot Ahronot’s Yossi Yehoshua:
‘At 9 am, half an hour after I put my head down, the Deputy Brigade Commander woke me up: “Come quickly, it’s best you be here.” We asked for a snapshot, we wanted information. We didn’t think there was an abduction yet. While inquiring if everyone was there, I commanded Sagiv, the Armored Forces Commander operating under my orders, to start moving from Hirbat Hiza’a, which was where he was, toward Rafah. Just then, I got the message: “it’s not green in our eyes” – in other words, not everyone had been found. We were missing a soldier. At 9:36, after inquiries with the battalion commander on site, I announced on the communication system the word that no one wants to say – “Hannibal.” In other words, there had been an abduction. I instructed all the forces to move forward, to occupy space, so the abductors would not be able to move.’
“The Hannibal Directive is an unwritten Israeli military protocol for executing captured Israeli soldiers to avoid politically painful prisoner swaps. Although its existence has been reported in the Israeli press since the 1980s, this interview with Winter appears to be the most frank acknowledgement of its use.
“The idea is to prevent the captors from taking the soldier alive, effectively denying Palestinian or other Arab resistance groups a bargaining chip down the line and relieving Israeli leaders of the political fallout from having to make concessions (such as prisoner swaps) to secure the soldier’s release.”
This is not the first time that Colonel Ofer Winter has sparked controversy from his description of the Israeli assault on Gaza. As the highest-ranking officer of one of the Israeli military’s most elite units, Winter has a lot of power and influence. Early on in the Israeli assault, Winter declared the war to be a “holy war”. In a letter to the soldiers under his command, on July 10th, 2014, Winter wrote that the objective of the invasion was to “wipe out” an “enemy who defames” God.
He continued, “History has chosen us to be the sharp edge of the bayonet of fighting the terrorist enemy ‘from Gaza’ which curses, defames and abuses the God of Israel’s battles.”
His letter ended, “God, the Lord of Israel, make our path successful, as we are about to fight for Your People, Israel, against an enemy who defames your name. In the name of the IDF fighters and, in particular, the fighters and commanders from the Brigade, make the phrase ‘For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.’ come true, and we shall answer: Amen.”