Hannibal Protocol – Endangering the Lives of Soldiers and Civilians

CC By - Iman Muhammad

Following multiple reports of the implementation of the IDF’s “Hannibal Protocol” during the kidnapping of Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, ACRI contacted attorney general Yehuda Weinstein on August 10, 2014 to demand that he instruct the government and the IDF that military operations designed to prevent the abduction of a soldier should not risk the life of the kidnapped soldier and cannot involve military activity in civilian locations. ACRI has demanded that an investigation be opened into the use of the “Hannibal Protocol” during Operation Protective Edge.


Excerpts from the letter sent by ACRI’s Chief Legal Counsel, Attorney Dan Yakir, and Director of ACRI’s Human Rights in the Occupied Territories Department, Attorney Tamar Feldman:


“Extricating a kidnapped soldier from his captors, and preventing a situation in which Israel is forced to negotiate the release of prisoners, are both worthy objectives. However, the means of realizing these objectives need to be legal, reasonable and proportionate. A protocol that puts the life of the captured soldier in jeopardy to thwart a kidnapping is fundamentally unacceptable […] Insomuch as the Hannibal Protocol permits the causing of harm to a soldier to prevent his abduction, or if it can so be construed, then the protocol is illegal.”

“Implementing this protocol in populated areas, wherein the soldier and his captors are surrounded by a civilian population that is not taking part in hostilities, is strictly prohibited. Massive and indiscriminate firing towards a metropolitan area in order to block potential escape routes will inevitably lead to a loss of life, as occurred in this instance, and therefore fundamentally violates the principle of distinction in international humanitarian law […] The implementation of the Hannibal Protocol in populated areas fails to distinguish between civilians and combatants and causes needless suffering. It is of our opinion that the use of this protocol in these circumstances constitutes an illegal method of warfare that violates the laws of war.”

“A command that subjugates the life of a soldier to an unknown political gain, whose nature and scope are unknown, is both cynical and revolting. It is not for nothing that this protocol has been subjected to severe public criticism over the years, including by senior officials in the security establishment. Activating this protocol in the heart of an urban and civilian environment is particularly grave; it shakes the foundations of law and morality and must be absolutely condemned.”

To read the full letter (in Hebrew), click here.


Before receiving a response to our letter, articles and interviews with combat soldiers about the Hannibal Protocol appeared, foremost among them a celebratory interview with the commander of the Givati Brigade, which appeared in Yedioth Ahronoth’s Rosh Hashanah supplement magazine. Each article indicated that the “Hannibal Protocol” was conferred and interpreted as a code meaning that in any instance of a soldier’s abduction, all measures must be taken to prevent his capture, including endangering the life of the soldier as well as harming innocent civilians and civilian sites, such as took place on a shocking scale during “Black Friday” in Rafah. Therefore, on October 6, 2014, we sent a reminder to the attorney general (link in Hebrew) about the “Hannibal Protocol” and its use in densely-populated areas, and we again demanded that he instruct the IDF to restrict the protocol for the prevention of soldier abduction to prohibit endangering the life of the soldier, as well as expressly forbid its implementation in populated areas.


On January 12, 2015, ACRI received a response to our letter from attorney general’s office. The response, inter alia, stated that the “Hannibal Protocol” reflects a proper balance between the various considerations involved in the matter, and does not contravene international law. In the opinion of ACRI, this response is insufficient.


On February 12, 2015, ACRI sent the attorney general our response to his response. We noted that because the protocol is classified, we have no way to judge whether its balances are proper, but even if they are balanced and the written orders are legal, in light of the wide gap between the written instructions and those received by soldiers and commanders in practice, they are not sufficient. As is clear from the many statements of combat soldiers, the widespread and accepted interpretation of the “Hannibal Protocol” is that in the case of a soldier’s abduction, everything must be done in order to prevent his capture, including endangering the life of the soldier and harming innocent civilians and civilian sites. The gap between the written order and the verbal instructions is so wide that it appears that in reality, there are two different protocols on preventing abductions.


In our letter, ACRI argued that it is insufficient that the Attorney General merely assess the written orders, and that he must also assess their implementation. If a significant difference is discovered between the written protocol and the orders given to combat soldiers in practice, he is obligated to find the source of the difference and to act to remedy the situation, in particular because this phenomenon is extensive and has lethal consequences. In the context of the “Hannibal Protocol,” formally addressing the written orders while ignoring the many statements of combat soldiers of various generations regarding the instructions they actually received from their commanders, amounts to hiding one’s head in the sand.


Moreover, the wide gap between the orders as described in the attorney general’s response, and the statements of soldiers regarding the manner in which they understood and implemented the protocol, raises serious concern that in practice, on that same Friday in Rafah, the legal version of the protocol was not implemented, and as a result over one hundred innocent people were killed. This compounds the need for a comprehensive and independent investigation into the incident, to be conducted by civilians who are not in any way involved in determining policy or writing protocols. Therefore, ACRI requested that the Attorney General conduct a thorough and comprehensive analysis into the legality of the protocol, its implementation in the IDF, and its use during the incident in Rafah.

  • Print
  • email
  • RSS
  • Tumblr
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • Facebook

Categories: Gaza Strip, The Occupied Territories, Use of Force

Tags: |

Comments are closed.