Whenever a major political figure dies, the news outlets always state the cause of death. But not in the case of Yasser Arafat. The cause of his death in November 2004 has remained a mystery. Now, almost eight years later we learn from Al Jazeera’s English-language TV service that the PLO leader was poisoned by a radioactive element, polonium-210. And who would want to kill him? Who else but the usual suspect, Israel?
At the time of Arafat's death, the word was on the street that, as a result of hislifestyle, Arafat died of AIDS. The Al Jazeera documentary, produced by American reporter Clayton Swisher, was sparked by the findings of a Swiss laboratory which (as you do eight years after his death) tested some of Arafat’s clothing and detected unusually high levels of polonium. The traces were weak, it turns out now, but still a lot stronger than would be expected in the natural environment. Suha, Arafat’s widow furnished the clothing to Al Jazeera (as you do eight years aftyer your husband's death). Since the release of the documentary, the Palestinian Authority has agreed to have Arafat’s body exhumed, so that more tests can be conducted for radioactive toxins.
Does the documentary illuminate the true cause of Arafat’s death? Was he really poisoned? And by who? Israel? Or his enemies within the PLO?
Writing on the Daily Beast website, award-winning Israeli journalist Yossi Melman, says that his research reveals that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s inner cabinet and senior Israeli intelligence chiefs discussed the idea of killing Arafat. In fact, senior IDF officers and military intelligence agents were in favor of taking harsh action against Arafat. Shaul Mofaz, the Defense Minister at the time, was even overheard whispering into Sharon’s ear: 'Let’s get rid of him,' in reference to 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.
Prime Minister Sharon thought that being accused of killing Arafat was not worth the advantages of being rid of him. Arafat already seemed to be an irrelevant leader whose true traits–unreliability and slippery untrustworthiness–were discovered not only by Israel, but by the international community.
The cause of Arafat’s death remains a mystery. His wife’s refusal to allow the Palestinian Authority to perform an autopsy has only added to the confusion. 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 Arafat’s belongings with polonium after reading about the poisoned Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.
Perhaps one of the mysteries of the past decade can be cleared up; but probably not.
Whether Arafat's body reveals he had been poisoned or not, the genie is out of the bottle. The news (or rumour) is out there and the truth–one way or the other–will not change the minds of those who want to believe the terrorist leader was a martyr in the struggle to destroy the Jewish state and its population.