French Experts: Arafat Not Poisoned — What Israeli Intelligence Told Us

Today (December 3, 2013), a French forensics team that studied evidence from bones and other material removed from the tomb of Yasser Arafat in the West Bank declared that his death was not a result of poisoning. This apparently conflicted slightly with the Swiss experts’ finding recently that Arafat’s death was consistent with poisoning by radioactive Polonium.

By Yossi Melman (a blog post from July 12, 2012)

Israeli Officials Discussed Killing Arafat, But Prime Minister Sharon Didn’t Think It Was Worth Doing

Al Jazeera’s English-language TV service has a new documentary, alleging that there is evidence that Yasser Arafat may have been poisoned by a radioactive element, polonium-210.  Naturally, people around the world paying attention to this – Palestinians definitely among them – suspect that Israel took a byproduct of its nuclear program and used it to turn Arafat into a sickly, weak man.  Arafat died in a hospital in Paris in November 2004.

The Al Jazeera documentary, by an American reporter, Clayton Swisher, said the poisoning possibility is reminiscent of the slow but certain death suffered by a Russian dissident in London, Alexander Litvinenko, in 2006.  An investigation discovered that polonium had been slipped into tea that he drank.  British authorities suspect that a former KGB officer was sent from Moscow by Vladimir Putin to do the deed.

Now a Swiss laboratory, as seen on TV, tested some of Arafat’s clothing and detected unusually high levels of polonium: weak traces, it turns out now, but still a lot stronger than would be expected in the natural environment.  The clothing was furnished to Al Jazeera by Arafat’s widow, Suha.

The Palestinian Authority says it now agrees to have Arafat’s body exhumed, so that more tests can be conducted for radioactive toxins.

In Spies Against Armageddon (Chapter 20, “Hope and Despair”), we turn to the issue of how Arafat died.  And if he was poisoned, who did it: Israel?  Or enemies within the PLO?

While his health was failing, in his partially destroyed presidential compound in Ramallah (on the West Bank), and then after he succumbed to whatever it was in the Paris hospital, speculation was flying high.

We reveal that the idea of killing Arafat was discussed by Israeli intelligence chiefs and the inner cabinet of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.  Senior officers in the army (the Israel Defense Forces) and in the military intelligence agency Aman were in favor of taking harsh action against Arafat – one way or another.  The defense minister at the time, Shaul Mofaz, was overheard whispering into Sharon’s ear: “Let’s get rid of him,” meaning Arafat.

But – based on many interviews with Israeli officials, political activists, military officers, and intelligence professionals – it seems almost certain that Sharon rejected all proposals to kill Arafat or even to have elite military commandos “snatch” Arafat and expel him from Palestine.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 20, which notes that Arafat did not leave his compound in Ramallah for three years, even as Israel’s air force bombed the building:

 Living in crowded conditions, with poor hygiene and no running water, Arafat’s health deteriorated markedly.  European peace mediators who visited him were worried about the world icon, in his mid-70s, apparently fading away from day to day.  They asked the Israelis to permit Arafat to leave, so he could get medical treatment in Europe.

The intelligence chiefs convened a special meeting on the subject in late October 2004 and debated whether to grant a favor to the Palestinian leader.  On one hand, it would make Israel look kind and just.  But there were objections that he was not so terribly ill, and he would probably recover and then go on a worldwide propaganda tour.

The military suggested that it could forcibly evacuate Arafat: grab him, put him on a stretcher, rush him out of the building and take him to a clinic somewhere.  Prime Minister Sharon rejected that, saying the hustle and bustle might kill Arafat – and that would look terrible for Israel.

The prime minister actually sided with the softer faction that leaned toward letting Arafat go.  Sharon felt that leaving Arafat – certainly a celebrity and to many in the world a hero – to die in his smashed compound, without medical treatment, would do serious diplomatic damage to Israel.

So, France and Jordan were permitted to organize the Palestinian leader’s exit: on a stretcher, in a helicopter, in a wheelchair, and then onto a French military airplane.  Apparently, it was too late to save him.  He died within two weeks, in November 2004, but that sparked a new, mysterious controversy.  What was the cause of death?  The French military doctors treating Arafat refused to specify, at least in any public statement.

Rumors swirled that Israel had poisoned him, perhaps little by little adding lethal substances to the air in his compound in Ramallah or sneaking poison into his food.  There also were rumors that Arafat was gay, and it might have been AIDS that killed him.

Israeli intelligence knew of indications that Arafat – who for decades had been “married to the movement” – was not intimately interested in women.  This knowledge came into play during a rare encounter between Mossad officials and Israeli journalists, a few years before Arafat’s demise.

Intelligence officers invited two journalists to a private chat, mostly about Arafat.  The Mossad clearly wanted to spread scandalous stories about Arafat being corrupt.

A third journalist, who was truly an intelligence junkie, made a point of dropping into the coffee shop where the conversation was taking place and practically invited himself to join in.  Excited by the possibility of taking part in Mossad psychological warfare, he offered to pose as a foreign writer who could approach Arafat’s wife Suha and get secrets from her – and he volunteered to sleep with Suha as part of an espionage escapade.

The Mossad said no, thanks. …

Israeli officials denied responsibility and said he had actually died of leukemia. They did concede that he had not gotten timely and proper treatment, because he was trapped in Ramallah by Israeli forces.

Israel said it had not poisoned its longtime foe, but it knew that many around the world would not believe the denial.   [From pp. 267-268, Spies Against Armageddon]

Spies Against Armageddon, israel spy, covert operations, dan raviv, yossi melmanPrime Minister Sharon thought that the downside of being accused of killing Arafat was not worth the advantages of being rid of him.  Arafat already seemed to be an irrelevant leader, a spent force, whose true traits – unreliability and slippery untrustworthiness – were discovered not only by Israel, but by the international community.  Quite a few senior PLO members were fed up with him, too.

After his death, one fact that added to the rumors that Arafat might have died of AIDS was his wife’s refusal to allow the Palestinian Authority to conduct an autopsy.  Was she afraid that her husband’s sexual orientation might be discovered?  And what made her change her mind now, appearing on Al Jazeera to demand that his body be fully examined almost eight years later?  Perhaps it is worth mentioning that at the time of Arafat’s death, his wife was suspected by senior Palestinians to have hidden away vast sums of money for her own comfortable life in Europe.

Why didn’t she send some of her husband’s clothing out for tests in 2004?  It certainly is possible that someone, on her behalf or the instructions of others, tainted the belongings with polonium – after reading about the Litvinenko case in London. …

Perhaps one of the mysteries of the past decade can be cleared up; but probably not.  In the meantime, the real issues between Israel and the Palestinians – how to restart peace negotiations and work seriously for a compromise peace between the two peoples – are left again in a fog of distraction and disagreement.

December 3, 2013

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