JANUARY 24, 2003
By RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI, Associated Press Writer
JERUSALEM – In the 1991 Gulf War Saddam Hussein had already packed his suitcase and picked a place of exile – Libya or Eritrea – then decided against fleeing because he felt he was not in danger, Israel’s defense minister said in an interview published Friday.
This time around – with several leaders calling on Saddam to leave Iraq and save the country from what could be a disastrous American invasion – it is unknown whether Baghdad’s dictator has made similar arrangements, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Yediot Ahronot daily.
In 1991, Saddam 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.
The United States continues to build up a strong military presence in the Gulf and says it is prepared to attack Iraq if Saddam doesn’t reveal to U.N. weapons inspectors where he is hiding non-conventional weapons. Iraq denies it has such arms.
Mofaz said he does not know whether Saddam has made detailed plans for exile this time around, but believes the Iraqi leader will wait until the last minute to decide whether to flee.
“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,” Mofaz said.
The defense minister also said Israel has completed preparations for a possible Iraqi attack, including with non-conventional weapons. In 1991, Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles, all with conventional warheads, at Israeli cities in retaliation for an attack by a U.S.-led coalition.
Israel has completed deploying anti-missile batteries throughout the country, the air force is on heightened alert, and the Home Front Command and the rescue services have been brought to their basic level of readiness, Mofaz said.
In the coming days, Israel will issue instructions to its citizens on what to do in the event of an attack, Mofaz said.
Mofaz said Israel has made it clear to the United States that it would retaliate for an Iraqi attack if non-conventional weapons are used, or if damage caused is so great that “we can’t keep quiet about it.”