The Israeli defense minister said in an interview published today that during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, President Saddam Hussein had packed his suitcases and picked a place of exile -- Libya or Eritrea -- but then decided against fleeing Iraq because he felt he was not in danger.

As the region prepares for a possible war again, several leaders have called on Hussein to leave and save Iraq from what could be a disastrous invasion, but whether he is making similar arrangements is unknown, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper.

In 1991, Hussein reached agreement with the leaders of Libya and Eritrea on the terms of his exile if it came to that and "tied up all the loose ends," Mofaz said. Mofaz said he did not know whether Hussein again had made plans for exile but believed the Iraqi leader would wait until the last minute to decide.

"From an analysis of his profile, I can say that the chance that Saddam Hussein will decide to use such an escape route, if he has one, before the first shot is fired is very low," Mofaz said. "The man has survived situations of very great danger, and it strengthened his tendency toward brinkmanship."