TEL AVIV, Israel – The Israeli military planned a daring assassination attempt against Saddam Hussein in 1992 — a plot that would have involved landing commandos in Iraq and firing sophisticated missiles at him during a funeral, an Israeli newspaper reported Tuesday.
The attempt was reportedly called off after an accident during a training exercise for the mission ended in the deaths of five soldiers.
The Maariv daily reported that with the capture of Saddam, Israeli military censors lifted a ban on publication of the full story. Israeli officials were not immediately available for comment.
The Israeli military put together the plan to kill Saddam in retaliation for Iraq's firing of 39 Scud missiles at Israel during the 1991 Persian Gulf War (search). However, the plan was never brought before the government for final approval, the newspaper said.
It said critics warned that whether it succeeded or failed, it could have triggered Iraqi retaliation in the form of a biological attack. It also said soldiers from the army's top commando unit, Sayeret Matkal (search), were to carry out the mission.
Israeli military intelligence determined that Saddam himself, and not one of his doubles, would attend the funeral of his father-in-law in Saddam's home town, and the assassination could be carried out there, Maariv said.
The commandos would set up a few miles from the cemetery and fire two specially designed missiles that would home in on Saddam, who wore a lighter-colored military uniform than other soldiers. The custom-made missiles were named "Obelisk," the paper said.
After the assassination, the commandos were to be flown out of Iraq on an Israeli plane that would take off from a temporary airfield built in Iraq, the paper said.
The training mishap occurred during one of the final practices on Nov. 5, 1992, at the large Tzeelim training base (search) in the southern Negev desert.
The five soldiers, members of the elite unit, were playing the part of the targets, Saddam Hussein and his bodyguards, and the other commandos were to fire a dummy missile at them. By mistake, a live missile was substituted, and the five were killed. Six others were wounded.
The mishap led to cancellation of the assassination attempt. Maariv reported that in fact, as predicted by Israeli intelligence, Saddam himself attended the funeral where he was to have been targeted.
The top commanders of the Israeli military were at the base to watch the exercise, including the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, later Israel's prime minister. The fact of his presence came out a few days after the mishap, leading to rumors about the real mission, including the possibility that it was aimed at Saddam.
Israeli military censors clamped a tight lid on the accident and the purpose of the training, banning publication of the details. After two foreign newspapers printed stories that the target was Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the Israeli government suspended the press credentials of the papers' reporters in Israel, charging that they had broken censorship rules.
Maariv reported Tuesday that the Nasrallah story was a government plant to distract reporters from the real target — Saddam — and the suspension of the reporters' press credentials was part of the deception.