Was Yasser Arafat Murdered?

A nine month Al Jazeera investigations indicates that poison may have played a role in Yasser Arafat's 2004 death.

A new report is raising questions about the real cause of Yassir Arafat’s death in 2004:

Tests performed on former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s personal belongings have revealed that they contained abnormal levels of the radioactive substance polonium, Al Jazeera reported on Tuesday.

Arafat died in a French military hospital on November 11, 2004, following a mysterious illness. Unconfirmed reports have suggested that Arafat may have died of AIDS. AlJazeera said that a nine month investigation revealed that this was untrue and the Palestinian leader was in good health before he suddenly fell ill in October 2004.

Arafat’s widow provided Al Jazeera with his clothing and toothbrush for laboratory testing  at the Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne, Switzerland. “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,” Al Jazeera quoted Dr. Francois Bochud, the director of the institute as saying.

According to the report, Russian spy-turned-dissident Alexander Litvinenko, who died in London in 2006 under suspicious circumstances, was found to have been poisoned with polonium slipped into his tea.

Arafat suffered similar symptoms to Litvinenko prior to his death - severe diarrhea, weight loss, and vomiting, according to the report.

Palestinians and Arabs have charged in the past that Israel poisoned Arafat. Some PA leaders have suggested that former Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan assisted Israel in the poisoning


The Al Jazeera commissioned study of Arafat’s belongings did not reveal any traces of common heavy metals or conventional poisons, so they turned their attention to more obscure elements, discovering the high levels of polonium, according to the report.

In 2005, The New York Times reported that medical records revealed that Arafat had died of “a stroke following a bleeding disorder,” and in connection with the issue of poisoning said the following:

Many senior Palestinian officials say Arafat was poisoned. In a recent telephone interview from Amman, Jordan, for example, Arafat’s personal doctor, Ashraf al-Kurdi, said he believed Arafat was poisoned.

But the newly released findings argue strongly against poisoning.

The French doctors sent specimens to three different laboratories for standard toxicology tests to detect metals and drugs like barbiturates, opiates and amphetamines. None were detected. The laboratories included the Toxicology Department of the Criminal Division of Physics and Chemistry in the Institute of Criminal Research of the National Gendarmerie; the Department of Clinical Biochemistry, Toxicology and Pharmacology at Percy; and the French Army’s Radiotoxicology Control Laboratory.

The researchers said Arafat did not suffer the extensive kidney and liver damage they would expect from a poison, although he did have jaundice.

Arafat did improve for a time in the Percy hospital, talking and walking with members of his entourage. Then he slipped into a coma on Nov. 3, when he was transferred to intensive care from the hematology service. That would seem to contradict the idea of poison, the experts said.

Of course, if the 2004 toxicology tests did not include testing for polonium, then it wouldn’t have been found, or likely even suspected. It’s also worth noting that the death of Alexander Litvinenko, now believed to be due to exposure to polonium as part of an assassination plot, didn’t occur until 2006 and was believed to be the first time anyone had died due to non-accidental exposure to polonium. So, Arafat’s doctors didn’t necessarily have any reason to test for this rather exotic element as the source of his illness.

None of this is to say that Arafat was in fact assassinated, but it does raise questions. Already, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Arafat’s widow Suha Arafat to call for an investigation into Arafat’s death, including the exhumation of Arafat’s body for the purpose of performing additional medical tests. If that happens, and if the polonium theory is confirmed, then the search for suspects will begin and, no doubt, most Palestinians will automatically assume that the Israelis were involved. The implications for Israeli-Palestinians relations from there seem rather obvious.

Stay tuned on this one.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. neil says:

    Will they really assume that Israel was involved if it was poisoning? That seems a little far-fetched; you’d think that infiltrating Arafat’s inner circle would be a high bar even for Mossad. On the other hand, it would be easier for Arafat’s Palestinian enemies. And I’m not so sure that Palestinians are naive enough to believe he didn’t have any of those.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Would it be tasteless to send flowers to the perpetrator?

  3. G.A. says:

    Would it be tasteless to send flowers to the perpetrator?


  4. Ben Wolf says:

    Will they really assume that Israel was involved if it was poisoning?

    I would. All that would be required is one person in regular close proximity to Arafat’s food; a cook, a maid, a family member. Also the Israelis have repeatedly demonstrated there’s no act too barbaric to commit.

  5. superdestroyer says:

    Polonium-210 has a half-life of 138 days. That means that after three years, 1/10,000th is left. Sampling years later will not detected po-210 but would just measure the stable lead (pb-206) probably using TIMS or icp-pm or accelerator MS.

    Of course cigarettes have a high level of polonium-210 and Lead-206 but I assume the Institut de Radiophysique knows what they are doing.

  6. Blue Shark says:

    After many many months of negotiation between Clinton, Barak, and Arafat, Arafat said no to 92% of everything he wanted and insisted on 93%. He was lucky the Big Dawg didn’t slip the shiv in at that time.


  7. Clanton says:

    @michael reynolds: No, and why am I not upset in the least about this or could care less who did it. Flowers? Fine, but maybe a million dollars would be suitable.

  8. walt moffett says:


    Of course, they will blame Isreal, no true son of Palestine/the Arab Spring would have committed such an act. It was the Mossad aided by MI6, the CIA, the Surete, Indian military intelligence, etc. This Friday’s sermons should result in a busy weekend.

  9. Blue Shark says:

    After dozens of months of delicate negotiation between Clinton, Ehud Barak, and Arafat, Arafat said no to 92% of everything he wanted and insisted on 93%.

    He was lucky the Big Dawg didn’t slip him the shiv in at that time.


  10. Franklin says:

    @neil: Will they really assume that Israel was involved if it was poisoning?

    Let me help you rephrase that question:

    Now that poisoning is a somewhat valid theory, would any amount of evidence convince Palestinians that it was NOT done by Israel?

  11. michael reynolds says:

    My money’s on someone other than the Israelis. Arafat was serving Likud’s purposes perfectly. He was rejecting any peace deal, still supporting terrorism, and was astoundingly corrupt. He was the poster boy for Israeli rejection.

  12. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    I’m still holding to the theory that he died of AIDS. Rumor had him as a relentless pederast. And his beard-wife is still living high on the hog from the money Arafat stole.

    I’d have to check, but I think his Nobel Peace Prize was the one that finally made me realize how worthless that award is. He was an unrepentant terrorist with the blood of thousands and thousands on his hands. He was offered 90% of the Palestinian demands for peace, with the promise of negotiations for even more, and instead launched the Intifadah.

    And don’t forget all the thousands and thousands who died thanks to him. Hell, he caused the Black September massacres when he tried to overthrow the king of Jordan.

    I’m with Michael on this. Hell, give the “poisoner” (a ludicrous theory, as destroyer points out) a Nobel Peace Prize.

  13. matt says:

    @michael reynolds: Oops missclicked a downvote instead of an upvote 🙁

    @superdestroyer: Posts like this are why SD confuses the crap out of me..

  14. Dave Schuler says:

    I think we can limit the list of suspects to about 400 million.

  15. Dave,

    That few?

  16. Let’s see… there’s only one other certain instance of political assassination using radiation poisoning with polonium, and it was almost certainly committed by Russian intelligence. There are other rumored assassinations using polonium and other radioactive substances (including one, the death of Roman Tsepov), within months of Arafat’s death), again almost certainly committed by Russian intelligence. At the very least, Arafat’s death sharing a now-known, but then unknown, Russian intelligence modus operandi is suspicious.

  17. Chris,

    Or, would the Mossad and Russian Intelligence run a joint operation?

  18. superdestroyer says:


    Any polonium-210 that was in Arafat’s remains is long gone (decayed into stable lead). I have no idea why the media is reporting that high levels of polonium-210 was found.

    As was shown during the Fukushima meltdown, the media is just not very good are reporting on technical issues. The same occurred during the first polonium-210 incident.

  19. michael reynolds says:


    @michael reynolds: Oops missclicked a downvote instead of an upvote 🙁

    That does it! Where’s my bottle of polonium?

  20. Mrbill says:

    What will they do when they find out he died of AIDS?


  21. Mr. Prosser says:

    I’m confused, a normal state for me. If the polonium decayed then the institute is tracing back on the amount of lead on the clothing and toothbrush, is that correct? Sort of like measuring the amount of lead in rock to determine its geologic age. By the way, who keeps a used toothbrush for 8 years? Was the family always planning on a future autopsy based on suspicion of poisoning?