Digging up Arafat: slim chance they'll find Polonium 210

The theory that Mossad killed the late Palestinian leader is popular – but it doesn't make any sense

Column LAST UPDATED AT 09:25 ON Tue 27 Nov 2012

WHAT do Yasser Arafat, Eva Peron, Elvis Presley, Benny Hill, Sammy Davis Junior and Napoleon have in common? They all belong to a select and macabre club of famous people who have been exhumed – dug up from their graves.

Napoleon was removed from his original grave on the remote South Atlantic island of St Helena to be returned in posthumous glory to Les Invalides in Paris. Sammy Davis Junior was dug up from the Forest Lawn Cemetery outside LA because relatives wanted to recover the $70,000 worth of bling he was supposed to have been buried with.

And earlier today, the remains of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were prised out of his concrete coffin in the West Bank city of Ramallah because new evidence has apparently emerged that he was bumped off, forcing the French judicial authorities to act.

In July this year, as enthusiastically reported by several Arabic news channels, the Institute de Radiophysique in Lausanne found elevated levels of Polonium 210 in a urine stain on his jockey shorts apparently stored in a small green bag by his widow for the last eight years. The same modus operandi as the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London by old lags from the KGB. Well, well.

The circumstances of Arafat's demise are a happy hunting ground for conspiracy theorists. On the evening of 26 October 2004, he was holed up in his shell-pocked Ramallah compound on the orders of then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.

After a supper of fish, chicken, hummus, tomatoes and green salad, all from the market in Ramallah, washed down with homeopathic drinks from an upmarket health store in Tel Aviv (there's the clue), Arafat complained of severe stomach pains. His condition rapidly got worse.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt despatched a medical team and King Abdullah of Jordan sent the best doctor in Amman but no one could make an accurate diagnosis, although they suspected some kind of blood disorder. President Chirac, who regularly spoke to Arafat by telephone, then suggested transfer to the French military hospital at Percy outside Paris - renowned for its haematological expertise.

It is also specially equipped to deal with the effects of radiation. If a power worker at any of France's 20 nuclear plants, or a sailor on any of the French navy's nuclear-powered ships and submarines, is suspected of having radiation sickness, they are swiftly transferred to Percy for treatment.

So it seems unlikely that France's top military doctors would have failed to notice that Arafat was stuffed full of highly radioactive Polonium. And he must have ingested a huge dose for it still to be detectable eight years later. Polonium has a half–life of 138.4 days (its radioactivity halves). Do the math - the stuff on Arafat's clothing has had its radioactivity halved 21 times in the last eight years.

Arafat was 75 when he died, a perfectly respectable span. The most likely explanation was that he died from natural causes - most probably, as a number of experts suggested at the time, backed up by leaks from Percy, as a result of the rare, and completely unpronounceable blood disease, Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP).

ITP causes the body, for no apparent reason, to mistakenly destroy most of the blood's platelets, the principal and first line agent of clotting. The man on the Clapham Omnibus has about 200,000 platelets per millilitre of blood – someone with severe ITP could have only a thousand or so. Without sufficient platelets, any bleeding just won't stop. The leaked accounts of Arafat's final hours suggest uncontrolled bleeding throughout the body and ultimately deep inside the brain – the classic denouement of ITP.

The Arab Street has always been of the unalterable view that Arafat was poisoned by Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service. But in 2004 the Israelis had Arafat exactly where they wanted him – an old man of diminishing vigour and reputation, physically besieged by the Israeli Army and crippled in the Arab world by his enthusiastic support for Saddam Hussein in the First Gulf War.

It's a wonder Mossad didn't try to keep him alive. In any case, if he was suffering from ITP or some other blood platelet disorder, as seems likely, poisoning with Polonium with all the risks of detection would have been a little over the top. If someone's blood doesn't clot they are easy enough to despatch. A couple of Aspirin to thin the blood and a sharp blow to the side of the head would be enough to finish the job. · 

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What an uneducated article...