I first learned about this story via Aporrea, two days ago. The Latin American alternative and independent media, as well as state channels in progressive countries like Venezuela, have been all over this hot potato like melted butter, since Palestinian solidarity is a major point of pride for them. I can only imagine what’s being said in Arabic!
But even more interesting than that is the silence from the very people who should be reporting this all over the rest of the world. Since the story broke, not a single major English-language news organization (other than al-Jazeera, as seen in the video above) seems to be touching this one, other than to pooh-pooh it with thinly disguised hasbara at best. But to me it rings very plausible indeed:
Al-Mayadeen TV, based in Lebanon, published a video reportedly documenting the confession of a collaborator with Israel, operating in the Negev detention camp, in which he said that “Israel recruited him to poison dinner meals of late President Yasser Arafat”.
The tape was recorded in 2006; in it a Palestinian detainee was interrogating the collaborator, who was assigned to spy on the detainees at the Negev detention camp before he was exposed.
The alleged collaborator detailed how he smuggled poison, and with the collaboration of some persons and a cook at the then besieged presidential headquarter in Ramallah, he managed to poison one of Arafat’s meals, and even personally handed the meal to him.
According to the report, the collaborator was recruited by Israel in 2002, and poisoned Arafat’s meal in 2004.
The man explained how a collaborator recruited him and took him to Jerusalem where he met an Israeli security officer by the name of Yoram, and the two agreed to “work together” before he took him to a Border Guard Police base in Maaleh Adumim Israeli settlement, where he was allegedly trained for two months.
Following the training, the man was taken to Jerusalem before he and some other collaborators were taken by a number of Israeli security officers back to the base, and showed the officers a video about the presidential headquarters detailing the location of the Arafat’s bedroom, and the kitchen where his meals were prepared.
On July 6, 2004, the collaborators were given a poison bottle and some cash, and were told that if they do not go ahead with the plan, they will be killed.
The collaborators then went to the presidential headquarters and told the presidential guards that they work in the kitchen.
After gaining access to the headquarters, a guard, allegedly involved in the plot, granted them access to the kitchen.
The collaborator also stated he asked one of the chefs to place the poison in Arafat’s dish (soup, rice and roasted chicken), but the cook got scared, and another cook took over and placed the poison in the rice and the soup.
Israel’s motives for wanting to poison Mr. Arafat are hardly in doubt. After several decades’ struggle against the steady expansion of Israel into Palestinian territory, he had earned a position of respect even among his harshest critics in Palestine. He was not to be dissuaded, nor to be disposed of with safer political means. He was there for the duration. And since Israel insists on going the same route as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, encouraging the “right” kind of immigration to keep the “barbarian” Arabs at bay, the last thing it needed was for those “barbarians” to unify and put a stop to the settlements. Arafat was, for better or worse, a Palestinian unifier. So of course, he had to be done away with altogether.
So much for motive. How about means?
The report strongly suggests that the means was poisoning by Polonium-210, the same highly radioactive isotope that famously killed Russian dissident and ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. It’s not hard to see why it was chosen:
Both radium and polonium are links in a chain of radioactive decay (element changes due to particle emission) that begins with uranium. Polonium, which eventually decays to an isotope of lead, is one of the more unstable points in this chain, unstable enough that there are some 33 known variants (isotopes) of the element.
Of these, the best known and most abundant is the energetic isotope polonium-210, with its half life of 138 days. Half-life refers to the time it takes for a radioactive element to burn through its energy supply, essentially the time it takes for activity to decrease by half. For comparison, the half life of the uranium isotope U-235, which often features in weapon design, is 700 million years. In other words, polonium is a little blast furnace of radioactive energy. The speed of its decay means that eight years after Arafat’s death, it would probably be identified by the its breakdown products. And it’s on that note – its life as a radioactive element – that it becomes interesting as an assassin’s weapon.
Like radium, polonium’s radiation is primarily in the form of alpha rays — the emission of alpha particles. Compared to other subatomic particles, alpha particles tend to be high energy and high mass. Their relatively larger mass means that they don’t penetrate as well as other forms of radiation, in fact, alpha particles barely penetrate the skin. And they can stopped from even that by a piece of paper or protective clothing.
That may make them sound safe. It shouldn’t. It should just alert us that these are only really dangerous when they are inside the body. If a material emitting alpha radiation is swallowed or inhaled, there’s nothing benign about it. Scientists realized, for instance, that the reason the Radium Girls died of radiation poisoning was because they were lip-pointing their paintbrushes and swallowing radium-laced paint. The radioactive material deposited in their bones — which literally crumbled. Radium, by the way, has a half-life of about 1,600 years. Which means that it’s not in polonium’s league as an alpha emitter. How bad is this? By mass, polonium-210 is considered to be about 250,000 times more poisonous than hydrogen cyanide. Toxicologists estimate that an amount the size of a grain of salt could be fatal to the average adult.
In other words, a victim would never taste a lethal dose in food or drink. In the case of Litvinenko, investigators believed that he received his dose of polonium-210 in a cup of tea, dosed during a meeting with two Russian agents. (Just as an aside, alpha particles tend not to set off radiation detectors so it’s relatively easy to smuggle from country to country.) Another assassin advantage is that illness comes on gradually, making it hard to pinpoint the event. Yet another advantage is that polonium poisoning is so rare that it’s not part of a standard toxics screen. In Litvinenko’s case, the poison wasn’t identified until shortly after his death. In Arafat’s case — if polonium-210 killed him and that has not been established — obviously it wasn’t considered at the time. And finally, it gets the job done. “Once absorbed,” notes the U.S. Regulatory Commission, “The alpha radiation can rapidly destroy major organs, DNA and the immune system.”
Recall that Yasser Arafat died of immune-system failure. And that Israel was quick to tout the ludicrous notion that he’d died of AIDS. (They were also quick to slander his widow.) How convenient is that? Not only did they get their #1 thorn in the side out in a matter of days, they also won a propaganda victory that smeared his name by insinuating that he was a closeted homosexual, a womanizer, or God only knows what else. And all this could be accomplished with just a salt-grain-sized crumb of radioactive material which is, by virtue of its alpha-emitting nature, extremely difficult to detect.
So, with motive and means established, we move on to opportunity. Here, the Israelis would have been stymied, since none of their own could get within a mile of the man. They’d need a collaborator, a Palestinian with motives of his own. Someone they could train and persuade to do the deed. And if the report I referenced is indeed accurate, it would appear that they found him. Opportunity established.
Now, all that remains is for the media to pull their heads out of the Negev sand and stop doing the Mossad’s obscurantist crapaganda work for them. They may soon have to, as it looks very likely that Arafat’s body will be exhumed and tested for polonium poisoning. Good luck burying that one when it’s finally confirmed, Mossad boys!
PS: Glory be, Eric Margolis has decided to touch this one too. Little by little, the truth will out!