“Top secret” Shin Bet memo suggested dead Arafat would benefit Israel

International scientists found high levels of polonium-210 in Arafat’s remains.   Mohamar Awad APA images

A “top secret” Israeli intelligence memo from 2000 concluded that the “disappearance” of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would be beneficial to Israel.

The memo, revealed in a book to be published this week by British-Israeli political scientist Ahron Bregman, adds evidence to support the thesis that Arafat, who died in November 2004 in a French military hospital, was assassinated.

The Electronic Intifada obtained an advance copy of Bregman’s book, Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories (Penguin).

Other revelations from Bregman, reported by Newsweek in advance of the book’s publication, include that Israeli intelligence eavesdropped on the phone calls of US President Bill Clinton during sensitive negotiations with Syria fifteen years ago.

Killing Arafat?

Bregman himself is circumspect about whether Israel had a hand in Arafat’s death, but sees a number of clues, including public statements by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Israel wanted him dead and was prepared to kill him.

Yet Bregman finds a “clear indication that the Israelis did intend to kill Arafat” in a “Top Secret” document dated 15 October 2000 – a few months before Sharon came to power and a few weeks into the second Palestinian uprising – from the Shabak, Israel’s General Security Service (also known as Shin Bet).

The Shabak document cited by Bregman states: “Following the violent events in the territories the question arises again as to whether Arafat is a factor helping to sort out the historical conflict between Israel and the Palestinian nation, or whether we are dealing with a leader who[se] … policies and actions lead to a serious threat to Israeli security.”

Bregman then describes the document’s reasoning and conclusions:

After going through “why Arafat is necessary,” and then “why Arafat is not necessary,” the document says that “the damage [Arafat] causes is bigger than his benefits….” And the subsequent conclusion is straightforward: “7. Arafat, the person, is a serious threat to the security of the state. His disappearance outweighs the benefits of his continuing existence.” And yet, even this Shabak “Top Secret” report does not provide us with enough evidence of assassination and we will probably have to wait for more information to ascertain what really killed Arafat.

Was Arafat poisoned?

Al Jazeera English investigative reporting since 2012 has revealed that Arafat’s personal effects contained high levels of the radioactive element polonium.

Independent Swiss scientists later conducted tests on Arafat’s exhumed remains and concluded there was “moderate” support for the theory that Yasser Arafat was poisoned.

While separate French and Russian scientific reports, also based on samples of Arafat’s remains, cast doubt on the conclusions by the Swiss radiation scientists at the Radiophysics Institute in Lausanne, the Swiss have hit back explaining why the French conclusions were flawed.

The French and Russian reports – unlike the Swiss findings – were never made public, but the Swiss scientists obtained copies and have explained, in an article in the Swiss magazine Le Temps last month, why the French and Russian test results actually support their conclusions.

All three reports found high levels of polonium-210 in Arafat’s body. “Not only were the levels of polonium of the same order” in all three reports, Le Temps says, “but the scientists also noted similar differences” among the samples from different parts of Arafat’s remains.

The key difference was not therefore in the test results, but in the interpretation.

The French concluded that the high level of the radioactive element was caused by radon, a naturally occurring element in the environment, but had not taken any measurements from the surrounding area to support this thesis. According to the Swiss, the French conclusion amounts to speculation.

The more thorough Swiss, by contrast, did take samples from the surrounding area.

Le Temps reports: “The Swiss anticipated the possible interference of radon. In their report they demolish the hypothesis. Not only was the level of radon in the sealed tomb very weak, but the soil situated under [Arafat’s] abdominal cavity, and therefore in contact with the body, was 17 times more ‘contaminated’ than soil situated far from the body.”

The presence of radon, which would be the same throughout the area, could not possibly explain such concentrations.

While the Swiss findings look stronger than ever, the debate continues.

Bregman’s revelations add a new, albeit circumstantial element, showing that Israeli intelligence, which has assassinated many Palestinian leaders, saw a rationale for eliminating Arafat as well.

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The truth will prevail, clarity is a gift; fear is not.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.