Updated: December 9, 2013 10:53AM
Before Osama bin Laden, there was Yasser Arafat. For years, Arafat was the most recognizable face of the murderous terrorism that has brought so much grief to the world.
Arafat, who died in 2004, is back in the news because Swiss scientists examined his exhumed remains and personal effects and concluded that their findings “moderately support the proposition” that he was murdered — poisoned with highly radioactive and toxic polonium-210.
The Swiss scientists were less than definitive because polonium quickly decays and the exhumed samples were degraded. Also, radioactive illness usually is accompanied by hair loss and that didn’t happen with Arafat. Moreover, he had a brief period of recovery, inconsistent with polonium poisoning.
Arafat became sick after a meal at his compound in Ramallah and, as his condition worsened, was transferred to a hospital in France where he died. Immediately Palestinians alleged that he had been poisoned. No autopsy was done.
Polonium entered into speculation after the 2006 murder of a Russian defector in London. The radioactive substance was put in a cup of tea.
Arafat’s widow, Suha, living in luxury thanks to the fortune Arafat looted from the Palestinian regime, urged France to reopen the case and it did. French and Russian experts also examined Arafat’s remains. The French have not issued a report. The head of the Russian team said no polonium had been found but that statement was retracted.
Palestinians claim Israel killed Arafat. Israel plausibly denies it. The truth is Arafat had many enemies, especially among his rivals in the Palestinian movement. His widow acknowledged his many foes and made no specific allegation against Israel.
Lord knows, Israel had plenty of reason to have wanted Arafat dead over the years. He was implicated in horrendous acts of terrorism, too many to list here. For example, there were the 1972 murders of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics that shocked the world. Arafat launched a terrorist war of suicide bombings, shootings and lynchings in the early 2000s after he walked away from the most generous deal ever offered to create a Palestinian state. Thousands of Israelis were killed or maimed.
Israelis weren’t his only victims. He was responsible for jetliner hijackings and airport shootings. He sparked a Palestinian rebellion in Jordan that killed thousands and ended when Jordan expelled Palestinian fighters, many of whom ended up in Lebanon and its bloody civil war. Arafat’s crimes go on and on.
However, by 2004 the Israelis had little reason to kill Arafat. In 2002, as President George W. Bush had committed America to a renewed effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Arafat was exposed again as a terrorist, this time trying to smuggle guns and rockets into Israel. Bush denounced Arafat and the Israeli army encircled his Ramallah compound, condemning him to virtual house arrest for a couple of years. He was a marginalized, isolated figure at age 75. An Israeli assassination would have been pointless.
If anyone slipped polonium into Arafat’s tea, coffee or water, it was more likely an agent of one of the legions of his Arab enemies.