Israeli Military Authorized Use of Force to Prevent Soldier Abductions on October 7, Media Reports

A controversial protocol reportedly allows the Israeli military to prevent kidnapping by any means necessary

According to documents obtained by Haaretz, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) authorized strikes on Israeli soldiers – and possibly civilians – to prevent them from being taken to Gaza by Hamas militants.

As Hamas militants raided military bases and settlements across southern Israel on the morning of October 7, the IDF’s Gaza Division and Southern Command, along with the Israeli general staff, struggled to assess the extent of the attack. 

Following reports of a kidnapping near the Erez border crossing shortly after 7am, divisional headquarters issued the command “Hannibal at Erez” to a nearby outpost, followed by an order to “dispatch a Zik,” Haaretz reported on Sunday. This order activated the so-called “Hannibal Directive,” a secretive Israeli policy permitting soldiers to take the lives of other soldiers to prevent their capture. A Zik is an attack drone capable of firing guided missiles at targets below.

Haaretz reported that the Hannibal Directive was employed multiple times at Erez throughout the day, as well as at two other locations: Re’im army base, where the Gaza Division is headquartered, and an outpost near the Nahal Oz Kibbutz, from where around two dozen soldiers and civilians were taken hostage.

By noon, the Gaza Division had received an order from Southern Command, stating that “not a single vehicle can return to Gaza,” a source within the command told Haaretz. 

“Everyone knew by then that such vehicles could be carrying kidnapped civilians or soldiers,” the source said. “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.”

In addition to authorizing the targeting of all Gaza-bound vehicles, the IDF began saturating the border area with mortar fire. “The instruction was meant to turn the area around the border fence into a killing zone, closing it off toward the west,” Haaretz’s source said.

More than 1,100 people were killed on October 7, and around 250 taken to Gaza as hostages. It is unclear if any of the dead were killed by Israeli fire as a result of these directives.

In one case that has already received media attention, 13 hostages were killed when an Israeli tank opened fire on a house at Kibbutz Be’eri, where they were being held by Hamas gunmen. The IDF is investigating the incident, and a final report is expected to determine whether the commander responsible was employing the Hannibal procedure.

Israeli commanders devised the Hannibal Directive after three IDF troops were kidnapped by Lebanese Hezbollah militants in 1986, according to Haaretz reporter . While its details have never been fully explained by the IDF, Israeli newspaper reports suggest that it has been rewritten several times in the years since, and has been communicated to troops as both a strict concerning the use of fire against kidnappers’ vehicles, and an stating that “a dead soldier is preferable to a captured one.”

The directive’s name was supposedly inspired by the Carthaginian general Hannibal, who poisoned himself to avoid capture by the Romans around 180 BC.