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Israel planned to kill Saddam in 1992

Operation called off after deadly training accident

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, shown in this undated file photo, was to be the target of an Israeli assassination attempt.
Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, shown in this undated file photo, was to be the target of an Israeli assassination attempt.

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel planned to assassinate Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 1992 but called off the operation when five soldiers were killed during training, Israeli officials said Tuesday.

Commandos were to have fired missiles at Saddam during a funeral, the officials said.

Israel's motivation for planning to kill Saddam was similar to why the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, said Ephraim Sneh, a Labor politician who was on the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in 1992. Israel's Knesset is akin to the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Had we succeeded there, you could have spared 11 years' suffering to the Iraqi people and danger to the entire region," Sneh said.

The Israel Defense Forces censor did not let Israeli media report the plan until Monday, shortly after Saddam's arrest.

The operation was formulated when Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister of Israel, Israeli sources close to the planning said. The training accident took place under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who replaced Shamir in 1992.

The soldiers who took part in the operation were volunteers, an Israeli newspaper reported. They were told to kill themselves rather than be captured.

The attack was to occur when Saddam attended the funeral of a relative in his hometown of Tikrit, Israeli officials said. The commandos were to fire two Obelisk missiles at Saddam from a spot near the cemetery. The plan called for an Israeli plane to fly the commandos out of Iraq from a temporary airfield.

The five soldiers were killed when a live missile mistakenly was substituted for a dud training missile. The soldiers who died were playing the part of Saddam and his entourage. Six other commandos were wounded.

Senior Israeli officials close to the planning say it was not in retaliation for the 39 Scud missiles that Iraq launched on Israel in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War. Most of them struck Tel Aviv and surrounding neighborhoods.

At the time of the training accident, two newspapers reported that the target of the assassination plot was Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. That story was a government ruse to distract reporters from the real target. As part of the ruse, the government said, it suspended the press credentials of the journalists who reported the story.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said Moshe Ya'alon, chief of the IDF, criticized the release of details of the plan.

"There are things that should remain internal for security reasons, and shouldn't be revealed to the whole world in an irresponsible manner," Ya'alon told the newspaper.

The mission wouldn't have been Israel's first military strike against Iraq. Israeli warplanes destroyed a reactor being built near Baghdad in 1981 because the Israelis suspected Iraq was attempting to build nuclear weapons.

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