Why Was the Missing Israeli Lieutenant Declared “Dead”? And Does the Army Have a Secret Plan to Kill Kidnapped Soldiers, to Avoid Crisis?
Israel was feeling the overwhelming national emotion of having a “missing soldier — kidnapped by terrorists,” but late on Saturday night (2 August) the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) decided to declare that Hadar Golding, a 23-year-old 2nd lieutenant, was dead. Officials did not want to reveal publicly what they had found at the scene of a suicide bomb explosion on Friday morning — the one that shattered the ceasefire that had just begun in Gaza. Body parts? Pieces of Golding’s clothing? Or just the logical, almost certain conclusion that Golding — though his body was dragged away by Palestinian attackers — could not have survived, as he had been standing with the two soldiers whose corpses were found?
In Israeli society, why is the kidnapping of a soldier considered worse news than the death of IDF soldiers? Because the army adheres to its commitment, to bring every fighter back home from captivity. Thus a kidnap leads inevitably to a lopsided prisoner exchange. In 2011 Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners — including convicted murderers — in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier who had been held by Hamas in Gaza for five years.
[The folowing analysis — which dismisses the notion of a secret IDF plan to kill Israeli soldiers when they have been captured — was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for the website of the private TV news service broadcast from Israel, i24news.tv.]
Before the death of the Israeli army’s Second Lieutenant Hadar Golding was publicly declared, based on ‘findings in the field,’ Israeli intelligence did not have precise information to determine the fate of Goldin, who had been dragged away by Hamas fighters on Friday morning — approximately 90 minutes after the start of a ceasefire that was thus immediately shattered.
While the house-to-house search continued in the Rafah area (where the incident took place) to find out what exactly happened to him, a senior IDF officer said on Saturday morning that several scenarios were possible and under consideration. Initially, four scenarios were discussed. He could have been taken alive. He could have been taken alive and wounded. He could have been killed in the heat of the battle. He could have been killed later at the hands of his captors.
It is clear now that Hamas leaders were highly embarrassed by the incident. Some of their officials issued contradictory statements and details.
Musa Abu Marzuk, Hamas’s deputy chairman of the Political Bureau, said in Cairo a few hours after the incident that an Israeli soldier was in Hamas’s hands and gave his name. Friday night, Hamas’s military wing – Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades — posted an official statement on their website saying that they lost contact with their unit involved in the operation and that they assume that their combatants — together with the captured soldier — were killed by Israeli bombs.
Then came another statement by another senior Hamas official who said in Qatar that “honestly,” the organization doesn’t have any information. Hard to believe. Hamas is a highly hierarchical and disciplined organization and despite wartime difficulties, the chain of command and information from top to bottom and vice versa might be rusty — but it works.
So what really happened on Friday morning in Rafah? What went wrong? Israeli troops were involved in a mission to search for tunnels. This was allowed in the ceasefire terms announced by the United Nations and America’s Secretary of State John Kerry, and they said that Israel and all the Palestinian factions were on board.
One possibility, which is ruled out by most experts, is that Hamas leaders or the military wing commanders cynically played a double game, seemingly accepting the cease fire but deciding covertly to sabotage it.
A more plausible explanation is that it was an act of a local low-level commander or even of a unit which was hiding in a bunker for a mission — featuring one suicide bomber and other fighters to follow-up — and did not know that a ceasefire was declared.
Now, Hamas — and Palestinian civilians in Gaza — will pay a high price for the mistake. The Israeli security cabinet decided Friday night that negotiations with Hamas for another ceasefire are pointless. Israel lost any faith it had in Hamas as a partner in a deal.
Instead, Israel will make a unilateral decision in regard to the continuation of its military operation in Gaza.
Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced on Saturday night that Israel will continue to pound Hamas terrorists, Israel is highly likely to end its Gaza operations soon.
The IDF can credibly declare that most of its stated goals – the destruction of the tunnel network and the rocket arsenals – are accomplished. Israel, from now on, will rely on deterrence. That’s in the belief that Hamas was so badly hit in this war that it is losing its appetite to renew the hostilities.
Peace and quiet — at least for a couple of years — may have been bought again, at the price of Palestinian and Israeli blood.
Practically, Israel returns to its simple strategy: Calm will be met by calm, and fire will be matched by more fire. The Israelis are not ashamed, in any way, of the fact that they have a lot more firepower than does Hamas.
Following the 2011 deal that released Gilad Shalit — in exchange for over 1,000 Palestinians — Israel’s top military and political echelons have reached a tacit understanding: They will not agree again to release a high number of terrorists, to win the freedom of one or a few Israelis. And they do not intend to free large groups of prisoners in return for Israeli corpses held by the enemy.
This realization ignited many discussions – mostly based on rumors – regarding a supposed order known as “the Hannibal Directive.” Hannibal was a military code word used in the 1980s to report when a soldier was kidnapped.
Since the ’80s there were many serious theoretical debates on how to deal with incidents in which Israeli soldiers are kidnapped. Some proposed that it was better that the enemy would have a corpse rather a live soldier.
But although this proposal had never actually formed into any procedure, many in Israel and outside it – especially fans of conspiracy theories – spread the belief that the Hannibal Directive instructs the army to kill its own soldiers, rather than let them be captured.
In 2011 the Chief of Staff, General Benny Gantz, made it absolutely clear that there is no such procedure or directive. Hannibal is a figment of the imagination. The army doesn’t kill its own troops intentionally. But it’s very hard to stop a scandalous rumor.