Israel planned raid to kill Saddam
Conal Urquhart in Jerusalem
Wednesday December 17, 2003
Israeli commandos planned to assassinate Saddam Hussein with "smart" missiles that would hit him as he stood in a crowd at a relative's funeral in his home town of Tikrit, it emerged yesterday.
The extraordinary proposal involved soldiers flying deep into Iraq and using the customised missiles.
The top-secret assassination plot, which was codenamed Bramble Bush and was closely monitored by Yitzhak Rabin, the then Israeli prime minister, was abandoned when a trial run went wrong and five Israeli soldiers were killed.
The plan was devised in revenge for Saddam's missile attacks on Israel during the first Gulf war. The Israeli military censor decided to lift a ban revealing details of the 1992 operation after the arrest of the former Iraqi leader on Sunday.
Sensitivity about the plan was so acute that when the Guardian reported details of the accident involving the soldiers in 1992, the paper's then Middle East correspondent, Ian Black had his press credentials withdrawn by the Israeli government.
Using information from sources in Iraq and the Iraqi media, Nadav Zeevi, who was in charge of gathering intelligence for the operation, had to work out a pattern of Saddam's movements.
At the time, the Iraqi leader was using body doubles and was constantly changing his routine. "After the war he felt much more wanted and hunted, as if he smelled that we were on his trail, and simply vanished," Mr Zeevi told the Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth.
Mr Zeevi and his team struggled to work out where they expected the real Saddam Hussein to go. They had thought that he would visit his mistresses, but it transpired that sometimes his body doubles would go instead.
A breakthrough seemed to come when Saddam's uncle, Tilfah fell ill. Tilfah had raised Saddam as a boy and held a senior position in the government. It was obvious that Saddam would visit him in person and would certainly go to his funeral at the family cemetery in Tikrit.
The Israelis were right - when the funeral did take place Saddam did go in person. But by that stage the operation had been aborted.
Various assassination proposals had been considered by the Sayerat Matkal (General Staff Reconnaisance Unit), Israel's SAS. The leadership of the army wanted a glamorous commando raid rather than an air strike.
Ephraim Sneh, a member of the Knesset's foreign affairs and defence committee in 1992, confirmed the army was preparing to kill Saddam and said Mr Rabin had ordered the operation. "The credit should be given to the prime minister because it was his courage to approve this operation. Like in Entebbe and other daring operations, it was Rabin who took this decision," he said, referring to an Israeli commando raid to free hostages in 1976.