Not a Conspiracy Theory anymore
Certain topics refuse to die. On July 3, 2012, the death of Yasser Arafat on November 11, 2004, returned to the headlines of international media. Arafat was in good health until he suddenly fell ill on October 12, 2004. At the time he was besieged by Israeli tanks in the Palestinian Authority Ramallah headquarters. When his condition deteriorated, he traveled to Paris, where he died in a military hospital. The cause of his death remained mysterious, giving way to a plethora of rather insulting rumors; Israeli media rejoiced in them. Yesterday, al-Jazeera reported that the Institute of Radiation Physics at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland had found significant traces of polonium-210 in samples taken from Arafat’s personal effects, including his trademark keffiyeh. The report is considered credible, having been quoted even by the BBC in its Middle East section. “I can confirm to you that we measured an unexplained, elevated amount of unsupported polonium-210 in the belongings of Mr Arafat that contained stains of biological fluids,” said Dr Francois Bochud, director of abovementioned institute. Today, July 4, Suha Arafat, his widow, asked the Palestinian Authority to exhume her husband’s body from its grave in Ramallah. If tests show that his bones contain high levels of polonium, there would be a conclusive proof that he was poisoned.
Considering the reputation of the laboratory which conducted the tests, there is little doubt on the results. The exhumation will just provide corroboration to what has been discovered. The date of the poisoning is known. Due to the restrictions imposed by the Israeli siege, the movements of Arafat are known from the poisoning moment onwards, until his death. Considering this, finding the assassin should not be difficult.
The poison used is interesting since it is relatively available and yet very obscure; even in this case the checking institute admitted that the existence of polonium traces was tested only after all common poisons were discarded. Polonium is a radioactive element discovered by Marie Curie in 1898. Its first victim was her daughter, Irene. Until yesterday, its most famous victim had been Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian refugee in London who died in 2006 after polonium was slipped into his tea at a sushi restaurant. Now it appears, the Russians took this unusual poisoning technique from somebody else.
There is one scientific detail which is important. Polonium is highly radioactive, to the extent that air surrounding Polonium samples exhibits a blue-glow. However, the spectrum of the radiation it produces is unusual. It radiates very little gamma rays, most of its pollution is in the form of short-lived alpha-particles. As such it is difficult to identify it from the distance. In other words, this is a radioactive poison which is easy to move around, even through areas monitored for radioactive substances. One of the uses of this poison is in the nuclear industry, where it serves as an atomic bombs’ initiator. Unsurprisingly, two other known victims of it were two workers of the Israeli nuclear program. This has been confirmed by official sources, but no other details on the circumstances have ever been provided. Israel may have discovered then the flexibility of this substance as a killer. Could Israel have assassinated Yasser Arafat by slipping polonium in his food?
Not a Conspiracy Theory anymore
At first this seems impossible. After all, during the relevant period no Israelis had access to Arafat’s deathbed. The other side of the equation is not less baffling. No Palestinian locked up in the Ramallah compound had access to polonium. Palestinian markets seldom offer it. This looks as a dead-end; those who had access to the poison couldn’t deliver it, those who could deliver it, didn’t have access to the poison.
Yet, on August 7, 2011, top officials of Fatah issued a report claiming that Mohammed Dahlan sent poison disguised as medicine to President Yasser Arafat while he was in a Paris hospital, eventually killing him. I expanded on this event in Abu Fadi: A Credible Conspiracy. After Arafat’s death, Dahlan ordered to incinerate the vials he had brought and thus brought suspicion on himself. Yet, we know now, that regardless the content of the suspicious flasks, Arafat had been poisoned in Ramallah, prior to his arrival at Paris. Polonium kills slowly and painfully as the few known cases show. Can this complex picture be reconciled into a logical framework?
The Palestinian Preventive Security Force is the official security apparatus of the Palestinian National Authority, in other words the Palestinian Shin Beth, or what in other Arabic speaking countries is called the muhabbarath (spelling may vary). It was established in 1994 by President Yasser Arafat as result of the Oslo Accords. It provides intelligence to the political level, its duties including counter-terrorism, counter-espionage, and defending national economy. It is regarded as highly professional; its cadres are mostly university graduates who receive intensive training both domestically and abroad. Where did the PSS appear from? Its duties identify a Walsingham-state ideology, inherited from a country that adopted this system of underground political-police from the source: England. I am saying with the complete confidence of knowledge that the PSS structure was designed by the Shin Beth, under the approval and supervision of Yitzhak Rabin. Moreover, the Shin Beth trained many of the PSS officers, who in the past had served as low-level informants of the Shin Beth during the First Intifada. We are talking of sister organizations, which in more than one occasion had shared staff. The abovementioned Mohammed Dahlan, and many other Palestinians, were trained by the Shin Beth.
Palestinian inner wars are as bitter as their wars against the Jews. In 2007, Dahlan assisted an American plan to overthrow the elected Hamas government in Gaza, known as the Battle of Gaza. The coup failed when Hamas carried out a counter-coup that threw the Fatah forces out of Gaza, a fitting end to his ongoing violence towards Hamas (during the entire 1990s Dahlan forces were accused of torturing Hamas detainees, to the extent that Gaza became nicknamed “Dahlanistan”). His corruption was made public in the Karni scandal of 1997, when it was revealed that Dahlan was diverting 40% of the taxes levied at the Karni Crossing (an estimated one million Shekels a month) to his personal bank account (he had Israeli bank accounts also). Hamas has claimed that two Palestinians arrested in Dubai for suspected involvement in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh (Ahmad Hassanain and Anwar Shheibar) are former members of a death cell which carried out violent suppression of Hamas members. Both work at a construction company in Dubai owned by Dahlan. A senior Hamas official told Al-Hayat newspaper that the two provided logistical aid to the Mossad hit team alleged to have carried out the assassination, renting them cars and hotel rooms. Dahlan denies the charges. When Dahlan led the PSS Gaza branch, the West Bank one was run by Jibril Rajoub, who later became a prominent Palestinian politician. The New York Times published an article named “Once Neighbors, Now Rival Palestinian Leaders,” by James Bennet on April 29, 2003, where Jibril Rajoub openly accused Dahlan of being an Israeli agent.
Israel could have given the poison to one of its Palestinian agents with access to Arafat’s food. There is little doubt that an agent willing to perpetrate the crime could be found.
Who is the assassin?
It is practically impossible to find out how states carry out assassinations, or the illegitimate rules governing them. As with polonium and other poisonings, Israel is also a leader in this field. On September 25, 1997, Khaled Mashal—a prominent Hamas leader—was the target of an assassination attempt carried out by the Israeli Mossad under orders of the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Two Mossad agents carrying Canadian passports entered Jordan and injected Mashal with an unknown nerve toxin. A few days later, Netanyahu surrendered to international pressure and provided the antidote. Toxin and antidote were developed by the Israel Institute for Biological Research (see Mossad, Sonic Weapons & Khaled Mashal). What is clear is that in such events the political level signs the death sentence and thus is morally responsible for the crime. By attacking Mashal, Netanyahu became a bio-terrorist.
In the case of Yasser Arafat the situation was different. The Mossad couldn’t have acted in Ramallah, which is under the jurisdiction of the Shin Beth. Such an operation would have been carried under the supervision of Avi Dichter—then Shin Beth Director—and signed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.