Although Yasser Arafat was 75 when he died and hadn’t exactly had an easy life, there were always suspicions surrounding his quite sudden collapse into severe ill health and death.
Conspiracy theories abounded: he had been poisoned with ricin, with thallium, with botulism….even that he had leukaemia or AIDS. The perpetrators were Mossad, America, Hamas or one of the other Palestinian factions who wanted him out of the way.
The fact that an autopsy carried out by French doctors found no clear cause of death (or toxin) just added to the speculation.
But now al-Jazeera claims that the former PLO leader was positively glowing with the radioactive element Polonium.
Using Arafat’s personal effects donated by his widow, al-Jazeera commissioned a laboratory in Switzerland to look for any traces of suspicious substances. The tests quickly ruled out many of the previous speculation about Arafat’s demise. No sign of cancer, cirrhosis, blood disorders or AIDS. But the Polonium scan hit the jackpot.
The dead man’s clothing, toothbrush and headscarf all contained very elevated traces of Polonium; far in excess of what would be occurring naturally. Arafat’s urine showed polonium levels about 25 times greater than a control sample. The Swiss scientists estimate that about 80% of the Polonium cannot be explained away through any possible natural contamination Yarafat would have been exposed to.
Polonium gained notoriety when the Russian intelligence services used it to poison the FSB whistleblower Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. The Russian dissident had some of the radioactive gear slipped into his tea at a sushi restaurant and died a couple of weeks later.
If Polonium was used to kill Arafat, it doesn’t really explain who did it, but it does narrow the suspects slightly. It’s not something you can get over the counter at a Gaza pharmacy. A nuclear source would be needed, which keeps Israel and America in the loop. And given the Russian modus operandi, they could also be suspected as suppliers.
Examination of the Polonium traces may yield some sort of clue as to its origin and there are now plans to exhume Arafat’s body for further testing. A man that was always controversial in life will thus continue to spawn acrimony and suspicion in death.
If the smoking gun can be traced back to a particular party there will be plenty of emotion on the part of the Palestinians, though it’s unlikely it will have any significant effect on their cause. Things have changed since Arafat’s death in 2004, and whilst there will be recriminations, the increasingly fractured Palestinian leadership are more concerned for their own survival than hanging onto an episode of CSI Ramallah.
But you can bet that at the moment someone somewhere in the bowels of a security agency is firing up the document shredders and wiping the sent items from their email.