Israel reveals post Gulf war plan to assassinate, shelved after drill blunder

By on Tuesday, December 16th, 2003

AFP,

Following the capture of ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, the Israeli military revealed a plan hatched in 1992 to assassinate the man who ordered the launch of missiles on the Jewish state during the first Gulf war.

The Israeli press said Tuesday that special forces had trained for an operation, code named Bramble Bush, in which they would fire a specially-designed missile at Saddam as he attended the funeral of a relative.

However, a training exercise for the operation left five Israeli soldiers dead on November 5, 1992, and the plan was subsequently shelved.

According to the Maariv daily, the operation never received a firm green light from then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

During the Gulf war of March-April 1991, Iraq fired a total of 39 Scud missiles into Israeli territory, indirectly causing the deaths of two people and damaging several houses.

Pressured by its US ally, Israel did not retaliate.

The top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily said the operation was mostly planned out of frustration with Iraq's missile attack and with the fact Saddam had remained in power and could re-arm as he pleased, even with non-conventional weapons.

The aborted plan was to have been carried out by an elite army unit called Sayeret Matcal, the papers said.

The head of the Israeli army at the time was General Ehud Barak, who was later to become prime minister, the reports said.

Israeli military intelligence established that Saddam himself, and not one of his doubles, would attend the funeral of his father-in-law, Khairallah Tilfah, near his hometown of Tikrit, and the assassination could be carried out there.

Tilfah, whose daughter Sajida Saddam married, was dying of diabetes at the time.

The commandos would have been ferried to a makeshift landing ground 12 kilometers (seven miles) from the cemetery at Awja, Saddam's birthplace, from which they would fire two guided missiles at the former Iraqi dictator before making their escape.

On November 5, 1992, the top commanders of the Israeli military were watching one of the final drill of the exercise at Tzeelim training base in the southern Negev, when the mishap occurred.

Five of the soldiers acting as Saddam and his bodyguards were killed when the commandos mistakenly fired a real missile, codenamed Obelisk, at them rather than a dummy.

“The joke of fate is that the target, Eyal Katvan, was not killed. He was 'only' wounded in his legs,” Yediot wrote.

The operation was cancelled and an “unfortunate incident” reported.

Captain Doron Kampel, who ordered the missile to be fired, received a three-month suspended jail sentence. He has since moved to the United States with his family.

Ben Caspit, one of Maariv's editorialists, denounced the “megalomaniac” nature of this project which, if it had failed, would have led, in his mind, to a regional bloodbath.

“To come up with an idea like 'Bramble Bush', one had to have a particular brain: enough megalomania, audacity, arrogance, a short-term vision and be over self-confident,” he wrote.

“Unlike the (June 1981) attack on Iraq's (Osirak) nuclear plant 11 years earlier, the planned assassination of Saddam would not have been a preventive measure but late compensation for the pent-up frustrations generated by the Scud (strikes) in the winter of 1991,” he concluded.

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