Israel risked lives of hostages by invoking Hannibal Directive on 7 October

Israel risked lives of hostages by invoking Hannibal Directive on 7 October

The Israeli army invoked its controversial “Hannibal Directive” during the 7 October Hamas attack, according to a report, a measure that has the potential to increase risks to civilian lives.

The directive was created by the Israeli military in the 1980s as an operating procedure designed to prevent the kidnap of soldiers by whatever means necessary, even if that comes at the expense of the lives of civilian hostages.

It has previously been blamed for possible war crimes, encouraging excessive or indiscriminate fire, and was formally discontinued in 2016.

But the protocol was invoked at three military facilities attacked by Hamas last year, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported citing testimonies of army officers and soldiers.

Hamas launched a surprise attack on southern Israel in the early hours of 7 October, reportedly killing 1,139 soldiers and civilians and taking more than 250 people hostage.

Israel has since killed nearly 38,000 Palestinians in a ground and air assault on Gaza, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry, and displaced nearly 90 per cent of its 2.3 million population. UN officials say another 500 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, where Benjamin Netanyahu’s government recently approved the construction of another 5,300 Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

While Haaertz said its investigation could not confirm if and how many Israeli soldiers and civilians were struck by their own military under the Hannibal protocol, it said “the cumulative data indicates that many of the kidnapped people were at risk, exposed to Israeli gunfire, even if they were not the target”.

As the attack unfolded, the paper reported, the military ordered that “not a single vehicle can return to Gaza” while making decisions based on limited and unverified information.

The military was unaware of the extent of the kidnapping but knew that many people were involved, it added.

The testimonies of army officers suggested that the procedure was employed in a “widespread manner”, starting at 7.18am local time shortly after a barrage of rockets was fired at Israel.

The army’s divisional headquarters issued “Hannibal at Erez” order and dispatched the unmanned assault drone “Zik” after an observation post at Yiftah reported a kidnapping at the Erez border crossing.

The Hannibal Directive was also deployed at the Re’im army base and the Nahal Oz outpost, Haaretz said.

“This did not prevent the kidnapping of seven of them or the killing of 15 other spotters as well as 38 other soldiers,” the paper added.

At 11.22am local time, the military issued another order not to allow any vehicle to return to Gaza despite being aware that they could be carrying kidnapped civilians or soldiers.

“There was no case in which a vehicle carrying kidnapped people was knowingly attacked but you couldn’t really know if there were any such people in a vehicle,” a source in the army’s Southern Command told the newspaper.

“I can’t say there was a clear instruction, but everyone knew what it meant to not let any vehicles return to Gaza.”

At 2pm, all Israeli forces were ordered not to exit border communities towards the west. “The instruction was meant to turn the area around the border fence into a killing zone, closing it off toward the west,” the source said.

In the evening, Brig Gen Barak Hiram, commander of the 99th division, ordered a tank to fire on a home in Kibbutz Be’eri where Hamas fighters were holding 14 Israelis hostage. All but one of them were killed.

A UN investigation last month found that the Israeli military killed at least 14 of its citizens during the 7 October attack.

The Israeli military had “begun conducting internal investigations of what transpired on 7 October and the preceding period”, a spokesperson told the newspaper.

“The aim of these investigations is to learn and to draw lessons which could be used in continuing the battle,” the spokesperson said.

“When these investigations are concluded, the results will be presented to the public with transparency.”

The Independent has contacted the IDF for comment.