By Boris Pavlishchev
The purpose of the recent red-herring allegations that Yasser Arafat was poisoned with polonium is to reduce risk of a military strike on Iran, this is how world media explain the recent speculation about the death of the Palestinian leader.
Recently, the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV channel reported that the death of the Palestinian leader in 2004 was the result of polonium poisoning, which could be proved by the results of the study of Arafat’s clothes conducted in a Swiss research institute. This brings up a question: who needs this red-herring report, which literally exploded the news wires and why now? Some mass-media sources assume that the report was spread in order to save Iran from a military strike. There has been no progress in talks on the Iranian nuclear program. In addition Iran has resumed making statements on blocking the Strait of Hormuz. Israel is getting more and more militant and the risk of war is growing. In this situation it is possible to calm down Israel by delivering a moral blow. In any case part of the global public opinion would unwillingly link the assassination of Arafat with Israel.
Despite its obvious advantages this version does not look convincing. Although Arafat had always been an avid fighter against Zionism in the last years of his life Israel wanted him alive. There are reports that Israel’s special services even guarded Arafat who managed to ensure better control over the Palestinian autonomy than is now there.
Iran is one of those who could benefit from the polonium version of Arafat’s death but the main beneficiaries are Arafat’s enemies in the Palestinian autonomy. It is likely that they stand behind his assassination, Sergey Seryogichev, an expert with the Institute of the Middle East says.
“They are now shifting the blame by claiming “we have been saying for all these years that Arafat was killed”. They are trying to be above suspicions and scoring new points. They can say that Mahmud Abbas is in danger and use other plays.”
However there is a risk to overplaying their hand, the expert adds.
“If they play too tough against Israel, Israel will play all its trump cards: it will tell the Palestinians who it was who killed their beloved leader. So far Israel keeps silent fearing military action between supporters and opponents of Arafat on the West bank of the Jordan River. But Israel definitely knows the names of the organizers, while the hit-men are dead, I think. These were the people from Group 17, the personal bodyguards of Arafat.”
Vladimir Sotnikov, analyst with the Institute of Oriental Studies draws attention to the moment which was chosen for the spreading of the red-herring.
“Currently, attempts are being made to resume the Middle Eastern dialogue. Perhaps, this was a method to put pressure on Palestine. Also the standoff in Syria is assuming a more and more dangerous character. It looks as it was beneficial for certain forces to spread this red-herring at this particular time.”
The situation is advantageous for Iran. It would be helpful for Iran if the inter-Palestinian arguments on who killed Arafat would grow into real clashes and in this case Israel could no longer think of a military strike on Iran as one of its priorities.
It was not mentioned in Al-Jazeera’s report where the polonium was produced. The radiologists who studied Arafat’s clothes certainly know this and can even define a specific factory, our experts say. It is likely that polonium was brought from one of the East European countries. The US is trying not to draw attention to this assumption to avoid an accusation of being biased. Moreover, the US could also benefit from those red-herring reports.