[News] Why Israel Murdered Arafat

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Nov 13 11:39:13 EST 2013

November 13, 2013

*Another Covert Assassination*

  Why Israel Murdered Arafat



It seems there are still plenty of parties who would prefer that 
Arafat's death continues to be treated as a mystery rather than as an 

It is hard, however, to avoid drawing the logical conclusion from the 
finding last week by Swiss scientists that the Palestinian leader's body 
contained high levels of a radioactive isotope, polonium-210. An 
inconclusive and much more limited study by a Russian team published 
immediately after the Swiss announcement also suggests Arafat died from 

It is time to state the obvious: Arafat was killed. And suspicion falls 
squarely on Israel.

Israel alone had the means, track record, stated intention and motive. 
Without Israel's fingerprints on the murder weapon, it may not be quite 
enough to secure a conviction in a court of law, but it should be 
evidence enough to convict Israel in the court of world opinion.

Israel had access to polonium from its nuclear reactor in Dimona, and it 
has a long record of carrying out political assassinations, some 
ostentatious and others covert, often using hard-to-trace chemical 
agents. Most notoriously, Israel tried to quietly kill another 
Palestinian leader, Khaled Meshal of Hamas, in Jordan in 1997, injecting 
a poison into his ear. Meshal was saved only because the assassins were 
caught and Israel was forced to supply an antidote.
Israeli leaders have been queuing up to deny there was ever any malign 
intent from Israel's side towards Arafat. Silvan Shalom, the energy 
minister, claimed last week: "We never made a decision to harm him 
physically." Shalom must be suffering from a memory lapse.

There is plenty of evidence that Israel wanted Arafat -- in the 
euphemism of that time -- "removed". In January 2002, Shaul Mofaz, 
Israel's military chief of staff, was caught on a microphone whispering 
to Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, about Arafat: "We have to get 
rid of him."

With the Palestinian leader holed up for more than two years in his 
battered compound in Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli tanks, the debate 
in the Israel government centred on whether he should be exiled or killed.

In September 2003, when Shalom was foreign minister, the cabinet even 
issued a warning that Israel would "remove this obstacle in a manner, 
and at a time, of its choosing." The then-deputy prime minister, Ehud 
Olmert, clarified that killing Arafat was "one of the options".

What stayed Israel's hand -- and fuelled its equivocal tone -- was 
Washington's adamant opposition. In the wake of these threats, Colin 
Powell, the US secretary of state, warned that a move against Arafat 
would trigger "rage throughout the Arab world, the Muslim world and in 
many other parts of the world".

By April 2004, however, Sharon declared he was no longer obligated by 
his earlier commitment to President George Bush not to "harm Arafat 
physically". "I am released from that pledge," he observed. The White 
House too indicated a weakening of its stance: an unnamed spokesman 
responded feebly that the US "opposed any such action".

Unknown is whether Israel was able to carry out the assassination alone, 
or whether it needed to recruit a member or members of Arafat's inner 
circle, with him inside his Ramallah compound, as accomplices to deliver 
the radioactive poison.

So what about motive? How did Israel gain from "removing" Arafat? To 
understand Israel's thinking, one needs to return to another debate 
raging at that time, among Palestinians.

The Palestinian leadership was split into two camps, centred on Arafat 
and Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat's heir apparent. The pair had starkly 
divergent strategies for dealing with Israel.

In Arafat's view, Israel had reneged on commitments it made in the Oslo 
accords. He was therefore loath to invest exclusively in the peace 
process. He wanted a twin strategy: keeping open channels for talks 
while maintaining the option of armed resistance to pressure Israel. For 
this reason he kept a tight personal grip on the Palestinian security 

Abbas, on the other hand, believed that armed resistance was a gift to 
Israel, delegitimising the Palestinian struggle. He wanted to focus 
exclusively on negotiations and state-building, hoping to exert indirect 
pressure on Israel by proving to the international community that the 
Palestinians could be trusted with statehood. His priority was 
cooperating closely with the US and Israel in security matters.

Israel and the US strongly preferred Abbas's approach, even forcing 
Arafat for a time to reduce his own influence by appointing Abbas to a 
newly created post of prime minister.

Israel's primary concern was that, however much of a prisoner they made 
Arafat, he would remain a unifying figure for Palestinians. By refusing 
to renounce armed struggle, Arafat managed to contain -- if only just -- 
the mounting tensions between his own Fatah movement and its chief 
rival, Hamas.

With Arafat gone, and the conciliatory Abbas installed in his place, 
those tensions erupted violently into the open -- as Israel surely knew 
they would. That culminated in a split that tore apart the Palestinian 
national movement and led to a territorial schism between the 
Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza.

In Israel's oft-used terminology, Arafat was the head of the 
"infrastructure of terror". But Israel's preference for Abbas derived 
not from respect for him or from a belief that he could successfully 
persuade Palestinians to accept a peace deal. Sharon famously declared 
that Abbas was no more impressive than a "plucked chicken".

Israel's interests in killing Arafat are evident when one considers what 
occurred after his death. Not only did the Palestinian national movement 
collapse, but the Palestinian leadership got drawn back into a series of 
futile peace talks, leaving Israel clear to concentrate on land grabs 
and settlement building.

Contemplating the matter of whether Israel benefited from the loss of 
Arafat, Palestinian analyst Mouin Rabbani observed: "Hasn't Abu Mazen's 
[Abbas'] exemplary commitment to Oslo over the years, and maintenance of 
security cooperation with Israel through thick and thin, already settled 
this question?"

Abbas' strategy may be facing its ultimate test now, as the Palestinian 
negotiating team once again try to coax out of Israel the barest 
concessions on statehood at the risk of being blamed for the talks' 
inevitable failure. The effort already looks deeply misguided.

While the negotiations have secured for the Palestinians only a handful 
of ageing political prisoners, Israel has so far announced in return a 
massive expansion of the settlements and the threatened eviction of some 
15,000 Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

It is doubtless a trade-off Arafat would have rued.

//*Jonathan Cook* won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. 
His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran 
and the Plan to Remake the Middle East 
(Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human 
Despair" (Zed Books).  His new website is www.jonathan-cook.net 

/ A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi./

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