Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A bitter pill to swallow

So the policy is now out in the open. Two years ago when I was in the army, I was doing guard duty near Ariel with another soldier. We had a fixed position and once an hour or so, one of us was to walk about 25 meters down the road from us and back to check the area. My colleague asked me if I understood the instructions we received earlier in the day. I replied to the negative; I hadn't a clue as I was still getting a feel for Ivrit at the time. He told me that if, while he was on his short patrol, I were to hear yelling from his direction I should shoot in the air to ward off any potential attackers. If I could see that we were getting into a kidnap situation, then I would have to do my best to neutralise the threat.

He went on to say that if the situation was that the terrorists looked to be succeeding in their struggle to kidnap him, and that I could not discern between his outline and the terrorists', I should shoot to kill all parties involved.

My friend explained that after the shenanigan that was the Second Lebanon War, the army is aware that terrorists are seeking to capture IDF soldiers to use as bargaining chips. He continued, saying that while this was not official army policy, it certainly has been unnoffically encouraged practise.

Yesterday, the cat was let out of the bag when a briefing given by the Magad (Battalion Commander) to Golani's 51st Battalion before they entered Gaza was was aired on Channel 10. The recording captures the Commander telling his soldiers that "Hamas' strategic weapon is to kidnap another soldier and I don't have to tell you, but no soldier from Battalion 51 gets kidnapped at any price and under any situation even if it means that he has to blow up his grenade together with those who are trying to kidnap him."

The IDF has furiously denied that these words were meant literally, and claims that this was motivational rhetoric in the commander's pep talk to his soldiers. The truth is somewhat different. Unfortunately, the IDF is all too familiar with the ramifications of a succesful soldier kidnap attempt. However, instructing a soldier to commit suicide grates with the IDF's ethos of leaving no man behind, and while it may be the best option available, it remains a bitter pill to swallow, and as such, has not been formally approved as policy. Additionally, as such a suicide (even under circumstances as extenuating these,) could well be against Halacha, the IDF has decided to adopt an informal apprach to this policy, opting to allow it spread via word-of-mouth. It would seem that this specific Battalion Commander inadvertently crossed the line by mentioning it to his soldiers formally, but the policy is equally effective when officially prescribed as when it is advisory practise.

Unsurprisingly, Jewish and Israeli blogs have seen a furious debate erupt over this policy. For a more in-depth look, read this page on VosIzNeias. Make sure to scroll down to read the comments people have left in response to the main article.

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