ISRAELI soldiers fighting in the Gaza Strip offensive this month were ordered to kill themselves rather than be captured, and if necessary to kill any Israeli soldier they saw being taken into captivity, the Yediot Achronot newspaper has reported.
“No matter what happens, no one will be kidnapped,” the paper quotes one company commander telling his troops before the fighting began. “We will not have a Gilad Shalit 2.”
Corporal Shalit, the Israeli soldier taken prisoner three years ago, is being held by Hamas, which is demanding the release of more than 1000 Palestinian prisoners, including hundreds convicted of terrorism, in exchange for his release.
The newspaper quotes similar orders given in different Israeli field units, which reportedly reflect a new army policy.
In the past, there were standing orders, known as “Hannibal mode”, for firing at a vehicle taking Israeli troops into captivity to disable it and permit a rescue team to reach it, even at risk to the captive soldiers inside the vehicle. The new orders tighten those instructions, reportedly by permitting the vehicle to be blown up.
A soldier in a commando unit that operated behind Hamas lines said his unit was equipped with “special weapons”. “We were instructed to use them also against any vehicle carrying a kidnapped soldier,” he said.
And an Israeli company commander told the newspaper he had instructed his men to resist being taken prisoner “even if this costs you your life”.
Israel’s Channel Ten television station broadcast a recording of a battalion commander instructing his men just before they invaded the Gaza Strip, in which he says one of Hamas’s main goals was to capture soldiers to exchange for imprisoned terrorists. “No soldier from the battalion will be kidnapped, even if that means he blows up on his own grenade together with whoever wants to take him,” the commander says.
Israeli officers reported several attempts, none successful, to kidnap soldiers during the house-to-house fighting in Gaza and to take them away through tunnels.
In its wars with Arab countries, Israel has had prisoners taken, but at the end of the fighting all prisoners on both sides have been exchanged. But in its conflict with militant groups in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, Israel has had to give up hundreds of prisoners — mostly Palestinian, sometimes Lebanese — in exchange for a handful of Israeli captives or for the bodies of dead soldiers.
Differing views about the stricter Hannibal mode were voiced yesterday by two fathers of soldiers who were taken captive by Hezbollah in Lebanon after being mortally wounded.
It was an absolutely logical decision, said Haim Avrahami. “Better to pay the price of a soldier and spare him, his family and the nation the awful agony (of his imprisonment).”
But Zvi Regev, father of one of the two soldiers whose capture by Hezbollah in 2006 touched off a month-long war in Lebanon, condemned the new instructions.
“We must leave a window of hope that the soldier will return,” he said. “I’m shocked just to hear of the possibility that our soldiers will get orders to fire on other soldiers of ours.”
The bodies of the two men’s sons were returned in exchange for hundreds of Arab prisoners.
Meanwhile, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported yesterday that the No2 man in the Hamas hierarchy in Gaza, Mahmoud Zohar, was wounded in the final days of the fighting in Gaza, and taken by ambulance to a Cairo hospital. There was no indication of his condition and no confirmation from other sources.
The No3 leader, Interior Minister Said Siam, was killed during the offensive in an Israeli airstrike.
The newspaper, citing Palestinian sources, said Hamas had executed one of Siam’s bodyguards for allegedly informing Israel of his whereabouts.
January 27, 2009
Abraham Rabinovich, Jerusalem
Source: The Australian