Operation Bramble Bush

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Operation Bramble Bush (Hebrew: מבצע שיח אטד‎) was an Israeli plan to assassinate the then president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, in 1992. It was described in full in December 2003 by the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth,[1] though news reports had circulated about the plot since January 1999.[2] The plan was conceived as retaliation for Iraqi Scud missile attacks during the Gulf War.[3] The plan was called off after five soldiers were killed during the rehearsal for the operation; the accident is known in Israel as the Tze'elim Bet disaster (אסון צאלים ב').

When Saddam's uncle, Khairallah Talfah, was discovered to be terminally ill, the Israelis investigated the possibility of using a commando team to ambush the funeral party. A commando team from the Israeli Army's elite Sayeret Matkal special forces unit was to be inserted into Iraq from Jordan, where they would travel to the funeral near Tikrit and kill Saddam with TV-guided "Midras" missiles.[4][5]

A rehearsal for the operation led by Doron Kempel took place on November 5, 1992 in the infantry training base near kibbutz Tze'elim in Negev desert.[5] The operation's execution was just two days away. However, in the rehearsal, Israeli commandos accidentally fired live rounds into a convoy simulating the target, killing five of their fellow Sayeret Matkal commandos and wounding six more.[6] The head of the IDF, Ehud Barak, had been watching the rehearsal at the time.[3]

The plan was cancelled. Israeli press reports described the incident as a "training accident."[7] Israeli censors tried to prevent Israeli newspapers from publishing the fact that the head of military intelligence, Uri Sagi, had witnessed the accident, but the censors relented a few weeks later.[8] On November 24, the American newspaper The Miami Herald reported that the soldiers involved in the accident had been rehearsing a plan to kill Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.[9] The New York Times, The Times, and the Independent also reported on the apparent attempt against Nasrallah, and the Israeli military censor complained the reporters from all newspapers involved had violated censorship laws.[10]

Seven years later, Operation Bramble Bush II once again targeted Saddam. Mossad agents had scouted locations in Iraq for the ambush of the Iraqi leader. However, as before, the plan was scrapped, this time due to both the U.S. and Britain's Operation Desert Fox and concerns that the assassination could harm the Israeli-Arab peace process.[2][11]


  1. ^ Israel's Secret Plan to Kill Saddam ABC News, Jan. 11, 2004.
  2. ^ a b Report says Israel dumped plan to assassinate Saddam
  3. ^ a b Israel reveals post Gulf war plan to assassinate, shelved after drill blunder
  4. ^ "Israelis dropped assassination plan after practice run ended in disaster" by Toby Harnden, Telegraph. Dec. 17, 2003.
  5. ^ a b Mossad plot to assassinate Saddam January 1999. Accessed April 3, 2010.
  6. ^ Secret protocols reveal: Yitzhak Rabin approved an Israeli operation to kill Saddam Hussein
  7. ^ "Five Soldiers Killed, Six Injured In Training Mishap." The Associated Press, November 5, 1992.
  8. ^ "Censor lifts ban on general's role in accident." UPI, November 23, 1992.
  9. ^ Rotem, Michael. "US PAPER: TZE'ELIM EXERCISE WAS PRELUDE TO NASRALLAH KILLING." The Jerusalem Post, November 25, 1992.
  10. ^ "Israel's Censor Upbraids 4 Foreign Reporters." The New York Times, November 26, 1992.