Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel's Botched Assassination Attempt Surfaces after Saddam Hussain's Capture

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel's Botched Assassination Attempt Surfaces after Saddam Hussain's Capture

Article excerpt

Israel's mysterious Nov. 5, 1992 "training accident" at its Tse'elim military base in the Negev finally has been unveiled-but is it the whole truth, or yet another cover story? The Israelis had never fully explained the unbelievable botch-up. First described as a "training accident," it soon became necessary to invent a plausible cover story that the world might accept.

Let's start from the beginning. The Israelis wanted to become involved in the first Gulf war against Iraq in 1991. Washington, however, was desperate to keep Israel out of the war, lest it so anger the other Arab states that the carefully crafted coalition might quickly unravel.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussain, meanwhile, was firing Scud missiles at both Saudi Arabia and Israel-also in an attempt to break up the alliance. Day after day the United States warned Israel not to retaliate for the attacks.

The Israelis complied-and, in fact, only two Israelis, one Saudi, and 28 Americans were killed, despite the fact 39 Iraqi missiles were fired.

The Israelis, however, thirsted for revenge, and set out to get Saddam Hussain. The plot was an ingenious one-but, as usual, too clever by half.

The mechanics of the scheme were first suggested on Oct. 2, 1992 by Israeli intelligence officer Nadav Zeevi. Then-Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin approved the plot, but also insisted on signing off a second time, when the timing had been perfected.

Israel's elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal was put in charge of the plot to assassinate the Iraqi leader-dubbed Operation Bramble Bush.

Then, a large group of Israeli dignitaries were invited to see a dress rehearsal of the assassination attempt. As Zeevi described it, "It was basically a show for the generals." Israelis wearing Iraqi-like uniforms and playing the part of Hussain and his entourage took their places as the rehearsal began.

Incredibly, however, the Israelis made a ghastly mistake. Somehow, they used a real missile rather than a dummy one. In the huge explosion that ensued, five Israelis were killed and another five injured.

The audience members scattered and headed for home. Even today there is some confusion as to who all of the dignitaries were, but stories had it that then-Chief of Staff Ehud Barak did not even wait to see which actors had survived and who had been slaughtered. The VIPs' main concern was to distance themselves as much as possible from any negative consequences of the fiasco. Barak was elected Israeli prime minister in 1999.

Military censorship clamped a very tight lid on the entire incident. Even more importantly, the Israelis came up with a totally false scenario to explain the rumors that kept circulating about the accident. Claiming that they had tried but failed to assassinate a Shi'i notable in Lebanon, they artfully concealed the fact that Saddam Hussain was the actual target.

Thus the story stood until Saddam Hussain's recent capture, after which details of the story finally were released.

According to the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, the original plan called for commandos to be flown into Iraq and split into two groups. One would serve as lookouts, signaling to their colleagues that Saddam had arrived for the funeral of a relative. The second group would be 13 kilometers away, from where they would fire two custom-made "Obelisk" guided missiles. …

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