The obligatory "Did Arafat die of polonium poisoning?" post

I’m confident that the coming testing on his exhumed remains will be carried out with all the rigor, honesty, and transparency for which Palestinian governance is known the world round.

Serious question: Is there any type of death that Arafat could have suffered that wouldn’t have inspired conspiracy theories? He could have been struck by lightning and Mossad would have been accused of building a lightning machine.

[T]ests reveal that Arafat’s final personal belongings – his clothes, his toothbrush, even his iconic kaffiyeh – contained abnormal levels of polonium, a rare, highly radioactive element. Those personal effects, which were analyzed at the Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne, Switzerland, were variously stained with Arafat’s blood, sweat, saliva and urine. The tests carried out on those samples suggested that there was a high level of polonium inside his body when he died.

“I can confirm to you that we measured an unexplained, elevated amount of unsupported polonium-210 in the belongings of Mr. Arafat that contained stains of biological fluids,” said Dr. Francois Bochud, the director of the institute…

There is little scientific consensus about the symptoms of polonium poisoning, mostly because there are so few recorded cases. Litvinenko suffered severe diarrhea, weight loss, and vomiting, all of which were symptoms Arafat exhibited in the days and weeks after he initially fell ill.

One teensy problem: Polonium has a half-life of 138 days, which means half the radioactivity of the sample disappears every four and a half months or so. Eight years later, only a tiny, tiny amount should be left from the original dose, on the order of just one atom per million. According to an Israeli scientist, the amount the Swiss lab found recently in Arafat’s possessions is simply too high to believe that it started decaying in 2004:

[E]ight years after Arafat’s death, the Swiss scientists reported finding polonium levels of 54mBq and 180mBq on his belonging, considered to be high levels.

“If it had been used to for poisoning, minimal levels should be seen now. Yet much higher levels were found. Someone planted the polonium much later,” [Dr. Ely] Karmon said…

Karmon added that the Al-Jazeera report raised additional unanswered questions. Referring to the fact that Arafat’s widow, Suha, provided the researchers with Arafat’s belongings, Karmon asked, “If Suha Arafat safeguarded these contaminated materials, why, after seven years, was she not poisoned too? She touched these things and Arafat in hospital,” he added…

“Did Al-Jazeera check the home of Suha Arafat in Paris and Malta where she kept the items for traces of polonium, as the British did in their investigation [of Alexander Litvinenko’s polonium poisoning]?” Karmon asked.

Good question. Remember, in the Litvinenko case, trace amounts of polonium were found in multiple locations where he’d been. This stuff does cross-contaminate, even though he apparently received a small (but obviously still lethal) dose. For Arafat’s belongings to show such surprisingly high levels of radioactivity even now means he must have received a massive dose at the time — and yet, somehow, no one around him fell ill via cross-contamination. Amazing.

Three possibilities then. One: Israel could have zapped him with some sort of magical Zionist version of polonium that has a much longer half-life and somehow creates no risk to the people around the target. Rest assured, this will become the new conventional conspiracy-theory wisdom if further tests don’t bear out Al Jazeera’s findings. And it still won’t explain why, after tolerating a cretin like Arafat for 30+ years, Israel would have finally decided to take him out in 2004 when he was already boxed in at the Muqata. Two: The polonium on his belongings was transferred accidentally because of how those belongings were stored. The New Scientist explains:

“They have to establish that the polonium is not associated with a natural occurring radioactive source,” says Regan – perhaps by looking for other accompanying natural sources, such as lead-210, lead-214 or bismuth-214. Suha Arafat has now called for her late husband’s body to be exhumed for further tests, a move which the Palestinian Authority has agreed to in principle, report Reuters.

If you believe Arafat’s wife, she’s been storing his belongings at her lawyer’s office. Not sure why they’d be kept there in any container that might generate trace amounts of polonium as a byproduct, but there you go. Three: Arafat’s wife, or someone else with her permission, planted the polonium more recently to make it look like he’d been assassinated. The problem with that theory is that polonium’s not easy to come by. One of the reasons Israel’s a prime suspect is that it’s a nuclear state and has access to this element. The Palestinians could have gotten it on the black market, I guess, or maybe from their friends in Iran. But even then, why now and why Arafat? There are a million ways Israel’s enemies can frame it for bad behavior and none of them involve an extremely rare radioactive element and a guy who’s been dead since Bush’s first term. This seems like a long way to go to create bad PR for “the Zionist entity.”

Exit question via CSM: “Why are the clothes only being tested eight years after the fact?”