Commentary Magazine


Topic: polonium

Those Stupid Arafat Conspiracy Theories

I honestly can’t believe we’re expected to take seriously the Al Jazeera “scoop” about Yasir Arafat being murdered. Disgraceful innuendo-filled articles of the type being written by the AP and published by the Washington Post are reporting “evidence” to the effect that Arafat might have been poisoned with Polonium 210. The proof, such as it is, comes from unusual levels of Po 210 reportedly detected on Arafat’s clothing and toothbrush by a Swiss lab in the last few months.

But given how math works, and taking into account the isotope’s 138 day half-life, that’s inane.

The minimum amount of Po 210 that’s fatal when ingested is about 50 nanograms (ng). Alexander Litvinenko, widely thought to have been poisoned with the radioactive element by the Russians in 2006, ingested around 10,000 ng, or 200 times the minimum lethal dose. That’s a tiny amount, but nonetheless there was so much Polonium in Litvinenko’s system that his sweat left a car permanently unusable and his house uninhabitable for six months. As a diagnostic matter, it was obvious to doctors he had been poisoned.

None of that was true for Arafat. Doctors couldn’t tell by looking at him whether he had been poisoned and he was not irradiating entire cars and buildings. So he would have had to ingest less Po 210 than Litvinenko. Let’s peg the amount at 5,000 ng, which is 100 times more than the fatal dose but still half of what Litvinenko ingested. As you’re about to see, the math works out in such a way that the actual amount doesn’t matter as long as it’s kept reasonable.

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I honestly can’t believe we’re expected to take seriously the Al Jazeera “scoop” about Yasir Arafat being murdered. Disgraceful innuendo-filled articles of the type being written by the AP and published by the Washington Post are reporting “evidence” to the effect that Arafat might have been poisoned with Polonium 210. The proof, such as it is, comes from unusual levels of Po 210 reportedly detected on Arafat’s clothing and toothbrush by a Swiss lab in the last few months.

But given how math works, and taking into account the isotope’s 138 day half-life, that’s inane.

The minimum amount of Po 210 that’s fatal when ingested is about 50 nanograms (ng). Alexander Litvinenko, widely thought to have been poisoned with the radioactive element by the Russians in 2006, ingested around 10,000 ng, or 200 times the minimum lethal dose. That’s a tiny amount, but nonetheless there was so much Polonium in Litvinenko’s system that his sweat left a car permanently unusable and his house uninhabitable for six months. As a diagnostic matter, it was obvious to doctors he had been poisoned.

None of that was true for Arafat. Doctors couldn’t tell by looking at him whether he had been poisoned and he was not irradiating entire cars and buildings. So he would have had to ingest less Po 210 than Litvinenko. Let’s peg the amount at 5,000 ng, which is 100 times more than the fatal dose but still half of what Litvinenko ingested. As you’re about to see, the math works out in such a way that the actual amount doesn’t matter as long as it’s kept reasonable.

After having planned and launched Intifada II and been militarily defeated, Arafat died in November 2004. The Swiss lab had his clothing for a few months. so let’s round down to 7 years as the interval between his death and the tests. That’s 2556 days (one leap year) divided by a half-life of 138 equals about 18.5 iterations. Put everything together – 5000 ng/(2^18.5) – and the result is about 0.0135 ng of Po 210 that should have been detectable on Arafat’s possessions today. That’s 0.0000135 micrograms. Four zeros of padding.

If we double the dosage to what Litvinenko ingested, the amount left over today would double to 0.0000270 micrograms. Double the dosage again – so now it would be twice as much as received by Litvinenko, who was visibly poisoned and who leaked radiation across half of London – and the amount today should be 0.0000540 micrograms. There’s just no way to get a reasonable amount of Polonium left over because the denominator, representing halving every 138 days for 7 years, overwhelms everything else.

The conspiracy mongers, however, have found a solution. They simply assert that given how much Polonium was found at the Swiss lab, whatever the math says should have been the original amount, that’s ipso facto the amount Arafat ingested. QED. As Elder of Ziyon pointed out, that amount of Po 210 contradicts the only thing we do know, which is that Arafat died slowly in a not-obviously-poisoned condition. Al Jazeera has been trying to dodge the obvious point by blandly inventing the idea we just don’t know what Polonium poisoning looks like. The dearth of knowledge will be news to the Swiss lab investigator who flatly stated that “the clinical description of Chairman Arafat’s symptoms prior to his death is not compatible with Polonium poisoning.”

This tripe is the worst anti-Israel conspiracy theory since the tourism-destroying Zionist attack sharks, and more’s the pity. I was really looking forward to following Newsweek’s suggestion that I “get smarter in 2012″ by watching Al Jazeera. Now it turns out the network would rather indulge in feverish conspiracy mongering than carry out junior high school arithmetic before running stories. One begins to really worry that Hillary Clinton was wrong about Al Jazeera’s vaunted news ethics.

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Dig Up His Crimes Along With Arafat’s Body

An Al Jazeera documentary and a statement from Yasir Arafat’s widow has led to a decision by the Palestinian Authority to exhume the former leader of the PA and to conduct an investigation into the cause of his death in 2004. While Palestinians have often spoken of Arafat’s demise being the result of an alleged Israeli plot, were such a probe to be honest, the Jewish state would probably have nothing to fear. More to the point, any discussion of Arafat’s death will necessarily involve highlighting what he did before he expired in Lausanne, Switzerland. And that is not something the Palestinians or their apologists ought to welcome.

Arafat’s death at the age of 75 was something of a mystery and predictably fueled conspiracy theories. Suspicion that foul play was involved will only be heightened if Al Jazeera’s allegation is accurate that his clothes contained trace amounts of polonium, a radioactive substance generally associated with assassinations carried out by agents of the former Soviet Union and the current Putin regime in Russia. That  helps to remind us that of all the players in the Middle East drama at the time of his demise, Israel was probably the only one that had an interest in keeping him alive rather than putting an end to his pathetic misrule of the territories. Hamas, his Fatah underlings as well as the host of enemies Arafat made during his career as the world’s number one terrorist, are all far more likely suspects than Israel. However, if Arafat is to be dug up, the focus on the mystery of his death ought to also revive some interest in his criminal career that provides an appropriate context to his ignominious death.

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An Al Jazeera documentary and a statement from Yasir Arafat’s widow has led to a decision by the Palestinian Authority to exhume the former leader of the PA and to conduct an investigation into the cause of his death in 2004. While Palestinians have often spoken of Arafat’s demise being the result of an alleged Israeli plot, were such a probe to be honest, the Jewish state would probably have nothing to fear. More to the point, any discussion of Arafat’s death will necessarily involve highlighting what he did before he expired in Lausanne, Switzerland. And that is not something the Palestinians or their apologists ought to welcome.

Arafat’s death at the age of 75 was something of a mystery and predictably fueled conspiracy theories. Suspicion that foul play was involved will only be heightened if Al Jazeera’s allegation is accurate that his clothes contained trace amounts of polonium, a radioactive substance generally associated with assassinations carried out by agents of the former Soviet Union and the current Putin regime in Russia. That  helps to remind us that of all the players in the Middle East drama at the time of his demise, Israel was probably the only one that had an interest in keeping him alive rather than putting an end to his pathetic misrule of the territories. Hamas, his Fatah underlings as well as the host of enemies Arafat made during his career as the world’s number one terrorist, are all far more likely suspects than Israel. However, if Arafat is to be dug up, the focus on the mystery of his death ought to also revive some interest in his criminal career that provides an appropriate context to his ignominious death.

It bears remembering that at the time he fell ill in his besieged compound in Ramallah, Israel had good reason to keep the old terrorist safe and sound. So long as Arafat was the face of Palestinian nationalism, his bloodthirsty reputation guaranteed the Jewish state a degree of sympathy that it lost once he was replaced by the more presentable Mahmoud Abbas, though the latter was no less obdurate in his refusal to make peace than his predecessor.

Arafat more or less invented modern international terrorism in the 1970s. But even after supposedly embracing peace with his historic handshake with Yitzhak Rabin on the White House Lawn in September 1993, Arafat had continued to promote and subsidize terror attacks against Israelis, Jews and Americans. When then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered him an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem at Camp David in 2000 and Taba in 2001, he turned the offers down flat. His answer to these peace initiatives was a terrorist war of attrition, the so-called second intifada that cost the lives of more than 1,000 Israelis and far more Palestinians.

In the aftermath of that debacle, Arafat was isolated and humiliated, living in the ruins of his compound in Ramallah after Israeli forces complied with American requests to spare the Palestinian leader. At this stage, he was unlikely to be able to do Israel any more harm, but both Hamas and his Fatah underlings had good reason to want him gone.

Hamas knew that without Arafat, their campaign to oust Fatah from Gaza and launch a long march to Palestinian power could never begin. Though Arafat ruled Fatah and the territories with an iron hand and the help of 17 separate and competing intelligence agencies, the mainstream Palestinian party and its terrorist thugs understood that recovery from the intifada required the imperious and corrupt Arafat to exit the stage. The bottom line is that a lot of people wanted Arafat dead. But Israel was the only party that had a vested interest in keeping him alive.

The puzzle of his death has so many pieces it is unlikely we will ever get to the bottom of the story, especially because Palestinian politics will require that Israel be branded as the guilty party even if all the evidence points in a different direction. The role of Suha Arafat, his much younger widow who has continued to live like a queen in Paris in the years since these events, is also complicated because, as Ha’aretz notes, she refused his doctors her permission for them to conduct a liver biopsy as he lay on his deathbed.

But no matter who was responsible for his death, there should be no doubt that the man who died in France November 2004 was responsible for the slaughter of countless thousands, the introduction of new and fiendish methods of terrorism and for preventing any hope of peace between the Palestinians and Israel. The Palestinians would do better to examine their own failed and distorted political culture that makes peace impossible rather than worry about who killed the man who put them in the impossible position in which they still find themselves.

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