The Palestinian terror chief died in a Parisian hospital on November 11, 2004, after being taken there, visibly ill, from his Mukata compound in Ramallah. No cause of death was ever officially announced, and speculations—and allegations—have been rife.
Last week Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic media network, strongly implied on its website that Israel was the party responsible. It cited findings by theInstitute of Radiation Physics in Switzerland that Arafat’s clothing contained traces of lethal, radioactive polonium-210, and said only a state with a nuclear reactor could come up with such a substance. No one in the Middle East missed the allusion to Israel.
That prompted, in turn, a demand voiced on Al Jazeera TV by Arafat’s Paris-dwelling widow Suha Arafat, who once accused Israel of killing Palestinians with poison gas, to exhume Arafat’s body from his Mukata burial place—all in the interest of truth, of course.
In a further development, on Sunday Israel Hayom reported that Lebanese TV had shown a video, apparently filmed in 2006, in which
a Palestinian prisoner in [Israel’s] Ketziot prison is seen “interrogating” another Palestinian inmate who confesses that he was sent by Israel to kill[Arafat]. The prisoner claims…that, together with a group of Palestinian collaborators, he poisoned Arafat by putting toxic substances in his food while the Palestinian leader was barricaded in his Ramallah compound in 2004.
The video further alleged that
the prisoner was…recruited by Israeli security forces in 2002. After a series of training sessions at an Israel Defense Forces base, he said he and the other Palestinians were instructed to infiltrate…Arafat’s compound, where with the help of collaborators who were in charge of securing the building, they managed to convince one of the cooks to insert poison into the rice and soup served to Arafat.
The prisoner said the Israeli security forces paid him and the others a generous amount for poisoning Arafat, but also made clear that if they did not perform the task, they would be killed.
It’s true that, on April 5, 2004, then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon said he was “not vouching for [Arafat’s] physical safety” and added: “Whoever kills Jews or orders Jews and Israeli citizens to be killed ... is a marked man.” By that time, while Israel was on the way to defeating the Arafat-led terror war, it was still raging with more than 130 Israelis killed that year.
Yet Israeli experts have cast grave doubt on the latest claims.
Regarding the polonium charges, Ely Karmon, a specialist in mass-destruction terrorism from Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center, “said that the half-life of the substance would make it impossible for polonium to have been discovered at such high levels if it had been used to kill Arafat eight years ago.”
Karmon added: “If it had been used for poisoning, minimal levels should be seen now. Yet much higher levels were found. Someone planted the polonium much later.”
Karmon also asked, in light of the fact that it was Suha Arafat who turned Arafat’s belongings over to the Swiss researchers: “If [she] safeguarded these contaminated materials, why, after seven years, was she not poisoned too?...”
And Ronen Bergman, an Israeli writer on security issues with contacts in the intelligence world, commented that
there are quite a few reasons to believe that Arafat died of natural causes. Israeli spokespeople strongly denied that Israel was involved in the affair. It was a decisive, unequivocal denial that was not accompanied by a wink, as was the case in other unexplained Mideast deaths (Imad Mugniyah, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh).
“We are not involved,” senior, grim faced intelligence and political officials told me, on the record, in interviews following Arafat’s death….
On the other hand, Bergman doesn’t completely rule out Israeli involvement:
there is no doubt that Arafat’s death came at a rather odd timing…. If Sharon indeed ordered Arafat’s assassination, this must have been done very secretly, in much smaller forums than any other assassination. The sensitivity would have been great, towards the Palestinians and perhaps more importantly towards the Americans.
And if it wasn’t Israel, what did kill the terror leader? Some say AIDS; some suspect intra-Palestinian foul play; while Israeli Middle East scholar Barry Rubin insists it was a combination of natural causes and incompetent physicians.
Will Arafat be dug up, and even if he is, will the resulting inquiries provide trustworthy results? The above-cited Israel Hayom report informs us that
during a press conference in Paris on Friday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Ramallah would not object to having Arafat’s body dug up from his grave to see if he was poisoned, if Arafat’s family submitted an official request for it.
Abbas noted, however, that the Palestinian Authority had not yet received any formal request to open Arafat’s grave.
In any case, another Israeli Middle East observer, Guy Bechor, says Al Jazeera’s polonium contentions evoked embarrassingly little response. That, Bechor claims, is a symptom of the fact that the Arab world has lost interest in the Israeli-Palestinian issue, being much more concerned about “what truly threatens it: poverty, unemployment, short life expectancy, the low quality of education for the next generation and the feeling of helplessness.”
And that sense of despair, one can add, has helped give rise to the Islamist ascendancy now evident in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and other parts of the Middle East including the Palestinians themselves—clearly in Hamas-ruled Gaza and to some extent in the West Bank as well.
Arafat, on the other hand—while hardly averse to using Islamist slogans to incite his masses to commit atrocities against Israelis—was of secular-nationalist profile. In that regard, resurrecting him at this point may be a bit passé.
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