Operation Bramble Bush (B)

By Jonathan Levav, Sheila Melvin, Omri Assenheim
2020 | Case No. OM39B | Length 4 pgs.

Content notice: Descriptions of war/violence. This case is about a training accident that occurred thirty years ago in the final rehearsal for a military operation that never took place: the assassination of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein by Israel’s vaunted Sayeret Matkal special operations unit. The accident led to the tragic death of six troops from friendly fire, and an eventual cancelation of the mission. The accident was simple and complicated at the same time. Our discussion will focus on why the accident happened, and how it could have happened to such an experienced group of operatives. The discussion will be supplemented with clips from a documentary in which the protagonists in the case are interviewed. The case is neither meant as an endorsement nor as a criticism of the operation or its intentions. I’ve selected this content because it offers a rich illustration of how context can influence decision-making, even of experts.

In the pre-dawn hours of August 2, 1990, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ordered his army to invade the neighboring, oil-rich state of Kuwait; within two days, Iraq had largely overcome organized military resistance and occupied its neighbor. A near-total financial and trade embargo imposed on Iraq failed to persuade it to leave Kuwait and in January 1991, U.S.-led coalition forces launched “Operation Desert Storm” with an air offensive against Iraq. On the night of January 18, Iraq fired ten Scud missiles at two of Israel’s major cities—the first air attack on an Israeli city since 1948. Israel withheld from responding publicly but secretly began crafting and testing a plan to assassinate Saddam Hussein. This case details the planning process, the trial run, and the massive failure that led the assassination plan to be aborted.

Also see: OM39A: Operation Bramble Bush (A)

Learning Objective

This case is used to teach the importance of systems designed to support appropriate decision-making and legislate out the possibility of error. Without such a system, even the most highly-trained, intelligent, and confident people – like the men in this case – can make a mistake under certain conditions including (as in this case) extreme fatigue. Decision-making is a product of the system constructed around the decision-makers.

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