Friday, August 1


Introduction by Gilad 
Atzmon: The following is a 
superb article by Richard 
Silverstein. It explores 
the history and meaning of 
the IDF’s Hannibal 
Directive  - an Israeli military protocol designed 
to prevent IDF soldiers from being captured alive 
by enemy forces.  The directive orders commanders
to take necessary measures, including 
endangering the life of an abducted soldier, to foil 
a kidnapping. In practice, the Hannibal Directive 
orders IDF combatants to kill their comrades in a 
case of abduction.
Silverstein is horrified by the directive and its 
ethical and legal implications. He also believes 
that such a homicidal protocol is inconsistent with 
the Israeli military’s alleged heritage of caring for 
its soldiers.  But Silverstein’s perspective may be 
It must be noted that military and civil law are 
distinctively different domains. While civil law 
serves to protect societal and individual rights, 
military law serves the system as a whole. This 
explains, for instance, why collective punishment 
is common and even acceptable within the context 
of a military legal discourse.  It serves the 
military’s interests as opposed to the rights of 
individuals.  The amusing adage “military law is to 
law as military music is to music,” captures the 
ethical absurdity that is entangled with military law
The Hannibal Directive is consistent with Israeli 
national and military interests. From the point of 
view of Israel’s strategic interests, a captured 
soldier entails compromises Israel would prefer to 
Silverstein writes, “The Hannibal Directive 
embraces a fascist perspective in which the 
individual is subsumed within the mass.  He has 
no specific individual value unless he is serving 
the interest of the nation.  And his interests may, 
when necessary be sacrificed to the greater good.” 
Silverstein is addressing the issue from an ethical 
perspective within the spirit of enlightenment. But 
Zionism and Jewish nationalism are inherently 
anti-enlightenment ideologies. Zionism denotes 
the birth of the ‘Jewish people,’ the idea that 
every Jew is an integral part of a larger collective 
with clear tribal interests that outweigh the 
individual. Accordingly, in an extreme situation, 
the interests of the tribe are far more important 
than the individual rights. The Hannibal Directive 
is a glimpse into the depth of the Jewish collective 
bond and  tribal commitment. It exposes the level 
of commitment and sacrifice expected of tribal 
Silverstein identifies the directive as fascist, but 
he should remember that Zionism predates 
Fascism and unlike Fascism that was largely 
defeated, Zionism has so far prevailed.

Israel Murders IDF Soldier to Prevent His Capture
by Richard Silverstein
I’ve devoted a good deal of my life to Israel.  I’ve 
studied, read, visited, lived, breathed it.  Not in the 
way diehard pro-Israel fanatics do.  But in a different 
way that matched my own intellectual and political 
proclivities.  It’s a subject that is rich, varied, 
troubling, bedeviling, and exhilarating.  But every once 
in a while I learn something I never thought possible; 
and I don’t mean this in a good way.
Tonight, my Israeli source informed me that Sgt. Guy 
Levy, serving in the armored corps, was captured by 
Hamas fighters.  He had been part of a joint 
engineering-armored-combat unit searching for 
tunnels.  Troops entered a structure and discovered a 
tunnel.  Suddenly, out of the shaft sprang two 
militants who dragged one of the soldiers into it.  By 
return fire, one of the Palestinians was killed, while the 
other fled, presumably with the soldier.
This Israeli report, which was censored by the IDF, 
says only that the attempt to capture the soldier failed. 
 It says nothing about his fate.  The expectation of 
anyone reading it would be that the soldier was freed. 
 But he was not.  In order to prevent the success of the 
operation, the IDF killed him.  Nana reports that the 
IDF fired a tank shell into the building, which is the 
same way another captured soldier was killed by the 
IDF during Cast Lead.
I would presume that once the militant fled into the 
tunnel with his prisoner that the IDF destroyed the 
tunnel and entombed those within it, including the 
soldier.  I would also presume that the IDF knows he is 
dead because they retrieved his body.
To the uninitiated this will seem a terribly strange, 
uncivilized, even immoral act.  But that’s where I 
learned something I’d never known before about the 
IDF.  There is an unwritten secret regulation written by 
the IDF High Command, but nowhere codified in 
writing.  Its existence is protected by military 
censorship.  Journalists have rarely written about it. 
 When they have it’s usually been in code or by 
It’s called the Hannibal Directive.  Though the 
Wikipedia article doesn’t explain the reference to 
Hannibal, I assume it relates to the death of the great 
Carthaginian general, who took poison rather than 
allow himself to be captured by his mortal enemy, the 
Romans.  Though Sara Leibovich-Dar wrote in 
2003 that the name came from a military computer!
In my long history of dedication to this subject, I’ve 
rarely seen anything that has disturbed me as much. 
 The Hannibal Directive is:
…A secret directive of the Israel Defense Forces with 
the purpose of preventing Israeli soldiers being 
captured by enemy forces in the course of combat.
…The order, drawn up in 1986 by a group of top Israeli 
officers, states that at the time of a kidnapping the 
main mission becomes forcing the release of the 
abducted soldiers from their kidnappers, even if that 
means injury to Israeli soldiers.
The order allows commanders to take whatever action 
is necessary, including endangering the life of an 
abducted soldier, to foil the abduction…
As happens so often in these cases, an IDF commander 
instrumental in drafting the order denied the horrific 
logic of the directive and then offered an example of 
how he would proceed which only confirmed it:
In a rare interview by one of the authors of the 
directive, Yossi Peled…denied that it implied a blanket 
order to kill Israeli soldiers rather than let them be 
captured by enemy forces. The order only allowed the 
army to risk the life of a captured soldier, not to take 
it. “I wouldn’t drop a one-ton bomb on the vehicle, 
butI would hit it with a tank shell”, Peled was quoted 
saying. He added that he personally “would rather be 
shot than fall into Hizbullah captivity.”
In other words, the IDF will do almost everything in its 
power to prevent capture of its soldiers including 
killing him.  It might not put a bullet directly in his 
brain, but it would certainly shell a home or vehicle in 
which he was situated.
Perhaps there’s a lingering bit of the liberal Zionist I 
once was here, but I’d always heard that Israel 
never leaves a soldier behind.  It does everything 
possible to bring all its troops home, and once 
captured does everything possible to retrieve or 
free them.
All this time I was sorely mistaken.  When all hope is 
lost of liberating the soldier from captivity, he dies. 
 What’s equally disturbing is that the existence of the 
directive is an open secret.  Commanders warn their 
soldiers that no one may be captured and that if you 
are you must commit suicide.  If you can’t do that, 
then they will do their best to kill you.  Perhaps they 
don’t articulate it precisely in those words, but that’s 
the clear intent.
Lest you think Hannibal is a theoretical regulation, it 
has been implemented before and captured soldiers 
have been killed by the IDF.  Most recently it happened 
During the war there was a case where the Hannibal 
directive was invoked. An Israeli soldier was shot and 
injured by a Hamas fighter during a search of a house 
in one of the neighborhoods of Gaza. The wounded 
soldiers’ comrades evacuated the house due to fears 
that it was booby-trapped. According to testimony by 
soldiers who took part in the incident the house was 
then shelled to prevent the wounded soldier from being 
captured by Hamas.
You have every right to ask: what soldier in his right 
mind would follow such an order.  There are 
thankfully examples of ones who refused.  But there 
are a number who didn’t including the tank 
commander who fired on his comrade in that home in 
Gaza, killing him.
You also have a right to ask how the IDF could 
approve such a regulation.  The answer is it didn’t.  It 
has never been vetted by military lawyers.  If it had 
been, the High Command might’ve been told it was an 
illegal, immoral directive which had no standing.  Then 
the IDF would have to implement an order its highest 
legal authorities had deemed treif.  That would never 
do.  So neither the generals, nor the Judge Advocate 
has ever delved into the matter.  It is yet another 
example of the national security state refusing to 
examine the deepest, most troubling principles on 
which it is based.
Implementation of the Hannibal Directive comes on the 
heels of the freeing of Gilad Shalit after five years in 
captivity.  The nation freed 1,000 Palestinian prisoners 
in order to release Shalit.  Israeli hardliners screamed 
bloody murder about freeing murderers with blood on 
their hands.  Some said it would have been better if 
Shalit had died rather than face this ignominy.
I believe that Benny Gantz and Bibi Netanyahu aren’t 
prepared to go through such a trauma again.  They 
believe their constituency would understand if they 
killed a soldier rather than lose him to capture.  Let’s 
make no mistake about this: it is a purely political 
calculation.  A nakedly, cynical political calculation.  It 
suggests that the interests of the nation trump the life 
of the individual.  These are considerations of an 
authoritarian state and not a democratic one.  A 
democracy values the individual.  It recognizes that the 
nation cannot exist without the individual.  Even that 
the nation should not exist unless it respects and 
values that individual.
The Hannibal Directive perverts such principles.  It 
embraces a fascist perspective in which the individual 
is subsumed within the mass.  He has no specific 
individual value unless he is serving the interest of the 
nation.  And his interests may, when necessary be 
sacrificed to the greater good.
I thank Dvorit Shargel for raising an important, and 
thorny issue. She implored me to consider the trauma 
of Levy’s family hearing their son was killed not by 
Palestinian fire, which would be painful enough, but 
by his own comrades.
It’s very doubtful the IDF would tell the family the 
truth unless it had no other choice. So then the 
question is, should we allow the IDF to lie just to cover 
up the use of the Hannibal directive and allow the 
family to believe he was killed by the enemy instead of 
his own?
My answer to this reluctantly is No. The greatest good 
is served by transparency. By knowing the truth, 
telling the truth, forcing everyone involved to explain 
what they did and why. Secrecy and pandering helps 
no one, even the dead soldiers’s family. I am sorry if 
this causes them added suffering. But blaming me is 
blaming the messenger not the real culprit.
Here is some of the discussion around the matter 
conducted by military ethicists (if there can be such a 
Dr. Avner Shiftan, an army physician with the rank of 
major, came across the Hannibal directive while on 
reserve duty in South Lebanon in 1999. In army 
briefings he “became aware of a procedure ordering 
soldiers to kill any IDF soldier if he should be taken 
captive by Hizbullah. This procedure struck me as 
being illegal and not consistent with the moral code of 
the IDF. I understood that it was not a local procedure 
but originated in the General Staff, and had the feeling 
that a direct approach to the army authorities would 
be of no avail, but would end in a cover-up.” He 
contacted Asa Kasher, the Israeli philosopher noted for 
Conduct, who “found it difficult to believe that such an 
order exists,” since this “is wrong ethically, legally and 
morally”. He doubted that “there is anyone in the 
army” believing that `better a dead soldier than an 
abducted soldier’.
On this point however Asa Kasher was apparently 
wrong. In 1999 the IDF Chief of StaffShaul Mofaz said 
in an interview with Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth: “In 
certain senses, with all the pain that saying this 
entails, an abducted soldier, in contrast to a soldier 
who has been killed, is a national problem.” Asked 
whether he was referring to cases like Ron Arad (an Air 
Force navigator captured in 1986) and Nachshon 
Wachsman (an abducted soldier killed in 1994 in a 
failed rescue attempt), he replied “definitely, and not 
The legality of the order has never formally been 
examined by the IDF’s legal department. According to 
Prof. Emanuel Gross, from the Faculty of Law at the 
University of Haifa:…”Orders like that have to go 
through the filter of the Military Advocate General’s 
Office, and if they were not involved that is very 
grave,”he says. “The reason is that an order that 
knowingly permits the death of soldiers to be brought 
about, even if the intentions were different, carries a 
black flag and is a flagrantly illegal order that 
undermines the most central values of our social 
I hate to harp on this, but liberal Zionists enjoy 
claiming Israel is a nation of laws.  That is upholds the 
rule of law.  But this is clearly not the case.  No 
democratic nation would permit such a directive after 
undergoing legal review.  So the answer in Israel is 
simply to prevent it from undergoing any such review. 
 It allows the flourishing of a secret code that governs 
critical aspects of the Israeli military.

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