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Israeli army ‘widely employed’ Hannibal Directive to target its citizens on 7 October

The army used the controversial procedure multiple times in an effort to prevent kidnappings, Haaretz reports
Israeli soldiers ride a Merkava tank in northern Israel on 9 October 2023 (AFP/Jalaa Marey)
Israeli soldiers ride a Merkava tank in northern Israel on 9 October 2023 (AFP/Jalaa Marey)

The Israeli military widely employed a directive allowing forces to kill their own citizens during the Hamas-led attack on 7 October, Haaretz reported on Sunday. 

The Israeli Air Force bombed at least three military bases and outposts during the attack.

Additionally, the military heavily fired at the fenced area separating Gaza and Israel as Palestinian fighters returned to the strip with captured Israelis.

The area was intended to become a “killing zone”, a source in the Israeli army's Southern Command told Haaretz. 

An order was also issued hours after the Hamas attack stating that “not a single vehicle can return to Gaza”, which was understood as potentially causing the death of kidnapped Israeli civilians or soldiers. 

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These orders, part of what is known in the Israeli military as the “‘Hannibal Directive”, were “widespread” on the day, according to Haaretz.

The directive, when active, mandates that the Israeli army use any means necessary to prevent the capture of Israeli soldiers, even if it involves killing them.

Haaretz based its report on documents and testimonies from soldiers and mid-level and senior army officers.

The Israeli newspaper noted that it was unclear whether or how many Israelis were targeted in these attacks. 

However, cumulative data indicates many kidnapped people were exposed to Israeli gunfire and were at risk, it added.

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At least one publicly known case involved Israeli fire killing 13 citizens, which received widespread coverage

The Israeli military is conducting investigations into other events on 7 October and the immediate aftermath, with findings set to be released soon.

More than 1,150 Israelis and foreigners were killed in the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on 7 October, including around 30 children and 300 women. 

Palestinians also took 250 people captive, including Israeli civilians and soldiers. Around 120 remain in Gaza, many of whom are believed to have been killed in Israeli air strikes. 

Israel has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians in the subsequent war on Gaza, including at least 17,000 children and over 10,000 women. Another 10,000 Palestinians are missing and presumed dead.

Invading Israeli forces have also abducted between 4,000 to 5,000 Palestinians from Gaza. Nearly 3,000 are estimated to remain in Israeli custody, including dozens who have died under torture.  

‘Crazy hysteria’ 

According to the Haaretz report, Israeli commanders made decisions in the early chaotic hours of 7 October without verified information.

“There was crazy hysteria,” one source said. “No one had a clue about the number of people kidnapped or where army forces were.”

One of the early uses of the Hannibal Directive came at 7.18am when a drone strike was ordered on the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing after a report of a kidnapping. 

The Beit Hanoun crossing and the adjacent military base were repeatedly hit with similar attacks throughout the day.

Other locations targeted by Israeli fire included the Reim base, where the divisional headquarters is located, and the Nahal Oz military outpost. 

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"Anyone making such a decision knew that our combatants in the area could be hit as well,” an Israeli military source told Haaretz. 

Another order, attributed to Brigadier-General Avi Rosenfeld, the commander of the Israeli army's Gaza Division, instructed all forces to fire mortars towards the Gaza Strip. 

The order was given despite the military having limited information on the whereabouts of forces and civilians. Many people hiding in bushes and open areas at the time may have been within firing range. 

The order was expanded hours later to prevent any vehicle from reaching Gaza. 

"Everyone knew by then that such vehicles could be carrying kidnapped civilians or soldiers," a source in the Southern Command told Haaretz. 

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

At least one Israeli civilian was killed in the area due to army attacks.

Many Palestinians, including journalists and civilians near the fence, were also killed in the attacks, with some still missing.

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