A new novel by a former member of one of Israel’s elite commando units provides an unprecedented look at what happens to the unfortunate civilians who stumble upon elite Israeli soldiers intruding upon other countries’ sovereignty.
SEATTLE — (ANALYSIS) For years, Lebanese media and the country’s army have reported lurid details about Israeli spy rings inside the country which assist in reconnaissance and espionage targeting Israel’s arch-enemy, Hezbollah.
The Israeli Defense Forces intelligence apparatus uses sophisticated listening devices planted in southern Lebanon — just one of the many surveillance tools at Israel’s disposal — to eavesdrop on the Lebanese militant group’s communications and track troop movements, among other things.
Rumors have trickled back from the front to Israeli reporters that the forays into Lebanon by the IDF’s elite commando units, Sayeret Matkal and Maglan, weren’t always clean operations. In fact, Israeli forces have encountered Lebanese civilians while planting their equipment more than once. Like Bob Kerrey and John Kerry during their days as commandos in Vietnam, when this happens, there’s only one option: eradicate the threat.
That means killing anyone, even a civilian, who detects your presence. Not just because exposure would mean certain death or capture for the team, but because it would cause a major political scandal that could embarrass the state.
‘Strange Incident’: The IDF conceals civilian murder
There is a name for these tragic encounters in Hebrew military jargon: mikreh muzar (“strange incident”). It occurred to an Israeli who I consulted about this report that this might be a veiled reference to Mark Haddon’s 2003 mystery novel, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” the plot of which harkens back to the famous Sherlock Holmes story about the dog that, mysteriously, didn’t bark.
The IDF doesn’t want the world to know that it kills innocent civilians in cold blood. But a new novel written by Natan Odenheimer, who once served with the Maglan special forces unit, sheds new light on this military procedure.
The novel’s Hebrew title, “Nifla Po,” can be translated as “Wonderful Here” — a reference to a popular song of the same name by HaBiluim (the group’s name is a double entendre which can mean “Good Time Boys” or “Pioneers,” a reference to the early Jewish settlers of Palestine). The song itself is a scabrous satire of the norms and prejudices of Israeli society:
“The Arabs of Kfar Shmaryahu [those who lived in this wealthy suburb were expelled during the Nakba] are no longer Arabs
The cat meows and so do the dogs
The Arabs of Kfar Shmaryahu are good Arabs
The Arabs of Herzliya [another wealthy suburb whose Arab residents have long since been expelled] are no longer angry
The donkeys bray and so do the horses
The Arabs of Herzliya are Russians [the latest wave of underclass immigrants]
It’s wonderful here, simply wonderful
Come, the sun rises each morning
It’s wonderful here, simply wonderful
Come, come quickly [a reference to the Zionist call for aliyah]
In the stock market they say everyone’s making money
Everyone’s happy, everyone’s blessed
All of us, all are brothers
The women are beautiful, the food is tasty
The Dead Sea is full of marvelous fish [no animals survive in the heavily saline water]
And the [IDF] captives in Lebanon are still alive [they died at the outset of the 2006 Lebanon war]”
Odenheimer’s novel recounts the battlefield experiences of a hero who served in a unit similar to the one in which the author himself served. In some sense, the novel format enables the author to provide a more truthful account than if he were writing a piece of nonfiction, because the IDF censor would require him to heavily censor a book claiming to be fully factual. For a novel, however, the censor can afford to be more flexible.
In Odenheimer’s book, the narrator says there are two possibilities when an Arab civilian disrupts an IDF commando patrol on foreign soil: the operation can be aborted or the civilian can be murdered. If the operation is not of the highest priority, it might be cancelled. If it is a high-priority mission, though, that leaves only one option.
Of course, the army can’t just shoot the intruder and leave his body on the hillside — that would expose the fact that an Israeli patrol had intruded on foreign ground, constituting a major incident with ensuing fallout. So, seeking to conceal not only its presence, but its bloody deeds, the civilian’s death is made to look like an accident. They decide to take him to the top of a cliff and throw him off, preferably into a ravine. Again, though, exposure is a danger, so great pains must be taken to ensure the victim’s cries aren’t heard. That is why the killing must take place in a remote area where no one can hear.
This appears to be the first elucidation of the full meaning of this military procedure by any Israeli source, though another “strange incident” was portrayed in a sanitized version by Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence in one of their IDF military testimonies.
Of course, there’s an easy way to end these cold-blooded murders: stop trespassing on Lebanese and Syrian territory. After all, in this day and age, the most sophisticated nations don’t need surveillance devices to be planted physically on enemy soil. (While it’s been reported for years that elite Israeli troops encroach on Lebanese sovereignty, it’s been far less known that this also happens in Syria, and so Odenheimer’s book is a bit of a revelation, despite its place on the fiction shelf.)
The death of the Hannibal Directive
In a related matter, Israel’s military chief, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, recently revoked the “Hannibal Directive.” The practice, which calls for Israeli troops to prevent their comrades from being captured, even if it means killing them, has been invoked several times in combat situations in Gaza.
Amos Harel, writing for Haaretz on Tuesday, reported on the end of the practice, but portrayed it murkily, perhaps even fraudulently:
“The order calls for soldiers to thwart captivity even at the expense of a fellow trooper’s life.
… The procedure requires soldiers to try and [sic] thwart being captured even if doing so – for instance, by shooting at the abductors – might endanger the captured soldier’s life.
Though the procedure doesn’t permit soldiers to intentionally kill a kidnapped comrade, many officers and soldiers in the field have interpreted it in this way.”
Other Haaretz reporters have alluded to the explicit meaning of Hannibal and what it entails. But even those who are more explicit have portrayed it in veiled terms that force the audience to read between the lines and infer that it involves deliberate murder.
But my own independent Israeli sources have confirmed the true meaning of the directive and numerous instances in which it was invoked, resulting in the deaths of soldiers at the hands of their comrades. Several Israeli journalists and I have published exposes of Hannibal and railed against the immorality it entails. Now, finally, it appears someone has been listening.
Eisenkot is likely dumping Hannibal as a precursor to an anticipated report by that state controller on the IDF’s conduct in Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza, Operation Protective Edge. In the report, a draft of which has been publicly released, the controller recommends abandoning Hannibal because of the likelihood that it contravenes international law. (Here, the controller is referring to the massive firepower the IDF brings to bear in attacking territory where a captured soldier has been taken by the enemy.)
Yet this official analysis doesn’t even deal with the essential depravity of Israeli troops killing their own in order to avoid the future prospect that Israel may have to trade Palestinian prisoners to get the soldier or his body returned.
Israel’s neutrality in Syrian conflict disputed
Returning to Syria, knowledge that the IDF violates Syrian territorial sovereignty in the fashion described in Odenheimer’s novel is yet another bullet point in the list of reasons why Israel is certainly not neutral in the Syrian civil war.
While Israel claims to play no role in the conflict, the truth is that the state is up to its eyeballs in it. From numerous air attacks on Syrian and territorial targets, to the shooting down of a Syrian war plane that strayed for a millisecond into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, to meetings between the IDF and Nusra Front commanders and supply of materiel to their forces — it is clear that Israel is deeply involved in the war against Syrian President Bashar Assad. It has forged a fateful and hypocritical alliance with the Nusra Front, the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, while still charging forth with the construction of more illegal settlements and oil and gas exploration.
Unlike Iran and Hezbollah, which have been invited by the Assad regime onto Syrian soil, no one invited Israel. The truth is that Israel doesn’t respect the borders of any of its Arab neighbors.
In some ways, the information published in Odenheimer’s book is not only shocking, but unprecedented. In a phone interview, the author told me his publisher had submitted the manuscript to the military censor for review. It had censored only one portion of the book which dealt with IDF snipers.
Astonishingly, though, the Israeli organ had no problems with the portion of the book that blows open the cover on Israel’s deadly machinations on its neighbors’ territory.