In the best "now it can be told" tradition, Israel revealed yesterday that it planned to assassinate Saddam Hussein in a daring commando raid deep inside Iraq in 1992. The chosen site was close to where United States forces took him alive on Saturday.
The operation, "Bramble Bush", was aborted after a missile killed five soldiers during a dry training run in southern Israel. Their commander mistakenly fired live ammunition.
Ehud Barak, who was the army chief of staff at the time, was observing the exercise with much of his top brass. Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister in 1992, had approved feasibility studies, but his government never approved the assassination. The training disaster was widely reported and two officers were court-martialled, but the military censor has only now allowed the target to be identified.
The mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot reported yesterday that two Sikorsky helicopters were to drop the commandos with Jeeps into the Iraqi desert the night before the funeral of one of Saddam's uncles. They were to drive to within range of the family cemetery near Tikrit, the dictator's hometown.
A team of four men was to advance to within a few hundred metres of the target. Once they had spotted Saddam, distinguished by the uniform he wore on formal occasions, they were to radio his location and the hit squad would fire a television-guided missile.
The troops were ordered to fight to the death. "At no stage," the newspaper reported, "would they surrender, and they would choose suicide rather than be taken prisoner. But it was important that one person would not emerge alive, Saddam Hussein."
Planning for Bramble Bush began soon after the 1990-91 Gulf War, in which 39 Scud missiles were fired at Tel-Aviv from Iraq. Israel yielded to American pressure not to retaliate during the war, but felt it had to do something later. "The main motivation," a senior officer involved in the planning told Yediot , "was revenge for the missiles ... It was inconceivable that this man could get away with firing missiles at population centres and come out unscathed."
The raid was carefully planned, with intelligence agents tracing where the dictator went in person and when he used doubles. One night, they are said to have spotted two "Saddams" visiting different mistresses at the same time. Major Nadav Zeevi, the former intelligence officer for the mission, told Israel's Army Radio that the funeral was chosen because "we realised we would have to find something that was emotionally so important to him that he would not send a double".
* Iran is the world's "number one terror nation" and is plotting relentlessly to attack Israeli targets, Avi Dichter, the head of the Shin Bet security service, said yesterday. He called on the US, the EU and Russia to restrain the country. Israel has in the past accused Iran of sponsoring militant groups, but he also said that "Iran has marked the Israeli Arabs as a potential fifth column for them to exploit".Reuse content