Speculation on whether or not former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat was poisoned or not, and by whom, has been rampant in the media in recent days, after the Swiss team of experts commissioned to investigate his death released their findings last week.
The head of the team from Lausanne University Hospital's Institute of Radiation Physics, Professor Patrick Mangim, told Channel 10 that "it can be surmised that Arafat died as a result of radioactive polonium being inserted into his food or drinking water."
Polonium is an obtainable material for countries with a nuclear infrastructure and a proven history of assassinations.
The Palestinians said following the release of the findings, "We already knew it, but now it is clear that the Jews killed Arafat."
Israel denied the allegations, saying it did not kill Jesus or Arafat, and it is the same libel at play.
Firstly to clarify, I have no idea if and how Arafat was poisoned. I definitely have an idea of how the Israeli government uses assassinations in the face of strategic challenges, when it has no other strategic recourse.
As far as some Israeli governments were concerned, there was sense in assassinating the one man with the ability to lead his people toward an agreement that would end in a withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines. Arafat sought an agreement even as he saw terror as a tool to convince Israelis who were against a deal, but his removal did not change the parameters (or threat) of a strategic agreement.
Assassinations have always been an available option. The special units are always prepared, and I can testify to the fact that hunting a man is an emotional high with unbelievable levels of adrenaline. It is also the cheapest option. For the price of one operation, you excite the masses and deflect attention from your inability to deal with the strategic problem. The problem is, you wiped out the man, pleased the multitude, but failed to wipe out the problem and certainly not his ideas.
I'm prepared to accept (we are in the Middle East) that revenge would be momentarily soothing. The scoundrel got what he deserved (if the person is involved directly in terrorism), but in general - assassination is a dirty business and completely useless. In a way it increases, rather than deterring, the perseverance of the opponent.
In the case of Arafat, Ariel Sharon wanted him assassinated. Then-Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Avi Dichter wanted him assassinated, as did then-IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz.
After Israel caught the Victoria weapons ship sent by Arafat to Gaza, Mofaz said at a meeting of Likud activists in Mevaseret Zion that "Arafat will be removed from the stage of history very soon."
In April 2004, when he was asked if Israel should assassinate Arafat, Mofaz said: "My opinion on the matter has been known for a long time. Arafat died in November, 2004. Later, following the assassination that either happened or didn't, the politician Mofaz explained: "I meant that Arafat should be expelled, not killed." Then-Military Intelligence chief Aharon Ze'evi Farkash said that Arafat died from a "harsh disease."
The intelligence community estimated that assassinating the PLO chairman would further inflame the intifada, but Military Intelligence was not privy to the direct dealings between Sharon and Dichter, which is where the final decisions were made. The position of then-defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer was "unclear," according to several sources, but more importantly, the vast majority of the Likud Central Committee and the common people wanted the assassination.
The person who did not want the assassination was then-US president George W. Bush, who outright refused Sharon's request. The prevailing wind coming from Sharon's office also infected the tongue of his deputy Ehud Olmert. In September 2003, he said that "the assassination of Arafat is one option to remove someone who the government defines as an obstacle to peace."
The Palestinians blame the Mossad, but the Mossad is not involved in assassinations that take place in territories under Israeli control.
For the most part, the Israeli reaction to the Swiss report was all-out denial of the assassination.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor said, "We are dealing with a soap opera...the two teams that checked the remains from Arafat's body were commissioned by biased parties."
Anonymous sources in Jerusalem explained that "this is an attempt to create a myth surrounding the death of the rais (Arafat).
Dov Weisglass, who served as chief of staff to Sharon, wrote in his book that "Sharon saw the end of Arafat's active leadership as an essential diplomatic and security need, but never sought to harm him physically." He added: "All of the rumors that Israel is responsible for Arafat's death are lies and nonsense."
This is the same Weisglass who said on February 8 2003 (at the height of the second intifada, when Sharon lost his temper after every terror attack and referred to Arafat as 'the dog in the Mukata'), that "after the Iraq War, the US will be free to deal in our area, and within months, Arafat will no longer stand atop the Palestinian Authority."
According to Weisglass at that time, Arafat was responsible for the intifada. Last week, at an Oslo Accords 20th anniversary event in Haifa, Weisgalss said that "Arafat did not control the security apparatus, and what began as looking the other way from the activities of armed militias became a loss of control. When he tried to stop it - it was too little too late."
Sharon's spokesman Ra'anan Gisin rejects the Swiss findings as well . "There was a government decision not to touch Arafat. If someone poisoned him, it could have been someone from his surrounding circle," he said.
Dichter was the most nonchalant: "If Israel wanted to kill Arafat, it didn't have to poison him. It also could have hit the Mukata (the Palestinian presidential palace in Ramallah). Dichter further joked about the findings, "I'm Dichter, not a doctor."
Ben-Eliezer, this week, blamed the Palestinians for Arafat's death ("they had good reason to do so"), wheras MK Israel Hasson, former Shin Bet deputy chief, claimed that the Palestinians were hiding the circumstances of Arafat's death in order to preserve his honor for reasons of privacy (there were rumors that Arafat died of AIDS).
Former minister and intel officer Rafi Eitan, who claims that assassinations are a legitimate tool against security threats, estimated that "the possibility cannot be ruled out that Abu Mazen (PA President Mahmoud Abbas) and [former PA security chief Mohammed] Dahlan are behind the assassination."
There are scientific explanations as well. Dr, Ehud Ne'eman, a radiation specialist at the Environmental Protection Ministry believes that "in no laboratory, as sophisticated as it may be, is it possible to discover that any amount was allegedly put in food." Speaking to Ynet, he explained that "after eight years, nothing would be left, even in the most advanced laboratories. It could be that this is natural polonium, from samples taken from the ground."
Radiation expert Dr. Dario Vertnik also joined the scientific public diplomacy attack, claiming that "getting polonium is not a problem...you can go to a mine, give a few bucks, buy the mineral and extract from it polonium..." From here on out Dr, Vertnik became Sherlock Holmes: "In the eight years since Arafat died, it was possible to add the polonium to his belongings."
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