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Report: Israel Developed Plan to Assassinate Saddam - 2003-12-16

Reports from Israel say the Israeli military had developed a plan to assassinate Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in retaliation for Iraqi missile attacks on the Jewish state in the 1991 Gulf War. Details on the plan, which was made public following the capture of the former Iraqi leader, over the weekend.

Israeli media are reporting special operations forces had planned to kill Saddam Hussein as the Iraqi leader attended the funeral of his father-in-law, in his hometown, Tikrit.

Under the plan, troops of Israel's elite Sayeret Matkal would have flown secretly into Iraq where they would attack Saddam and his entourage with specially designed missiles. The troops were all volunteers who would fight to the death and -- if need be -- commit suicide, rather than allow themselves to be captured.

However, the plan was never implemented. Five special operations soldiers were killed when a live missile was fired at them, by mistake, as they were going through a final run-through for the mission.

Top military commanders -- including then-Chief of Staff Ehud Barak -- were present at an Israeli military camp in a remote area of the Negev Desert to monitor the rehearsal. His presence there become known, several days later, leading to speculation about what the military was up to -- including the possibility that Israel might have been planning to assassinate the Iraqi leader. Israeli military censors clamped a tight ban on news media, forbidding the release of any details of the accident.

The Israeli daily newspaper Maariv and Army Radio reported Tuesday that -- with the capture of Saddam Hussein -- Israeli military censors lifted their ban on publication of the full story.

The Israeli government had not approved the plan, which was criticized by some people as being too risky and likely to draw Iraqi reprisals, perhaps in the form of an attack using biological weapons.

The plot was reported to be Israel's response for Saddam firing nearly 40 Scud missiles at the country, during the 1991 Gulf War.