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Al Jazeera Reports: New Tests Show Yasser Arafat Poisoned with Radioactive Polonium July 3, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Published on Tuesday, July 3, 2012 by Common Dreams

 

- Common Dreams staff

“[W]e shall discover ourselves in peace more than we have with war and confrontation, as I am sure that the Israelis in turn shall find themselves in peace more than they have found it in war.” —Yasser Arafat, Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, 1994

Yasser Arafat, Palestinian leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, died mysteriously on November 11, 2004.

Now, a nine-month investigation by Al Jazeera revealed Tuesday that Arafat was in good health until he suddenly fell ill on October 12, 2004.

[...] tests 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.

The institute studied Arafat’s personal effects, which his widow provided to Al Jazeera, the first time they had been examined by a laboratory. Doctors did not find any traces of common heavy metals or conventional poisons, so they turned their attention to more obscure elements, including polonium.

The study of Arafat’s medical file and belongings was carried out at the University Hospital Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland. The university’s Centre of Legal Medicine is considered one of the best forensic pathology labs in the world.

It has studied evidence for the United Nations in East Timor and the International Criminal Court in the former Yugoslavia, and it investigated the death of Princess Diana, among other well-known personalities.

It is a highly radioactive element used, among other things, to power spacecraft. Marie Curie discovered it in 1898, and her daughter Irene was among the first people it killed: She died of leukemia several years after an accidental polonium exposure in her laboratory.

At least two people connected with Israel’s nuclear program also reportedly died after exposure to the element, according to the limited literature on the subject.

But polonium’s most famous victim was Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian spy-turned-dissident who died in London in 2006 after a lingering illness. A British inquiry found that he was poisoned with polonium slipped into his tea at a sushi restaurant.

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. [...]

 

Why there will be a war in the Middle East this year January 21, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Iran, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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An Iranian woman walks past an anti-U.S. mural painted on the wall of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran on Nov. 19, 2011.An Iranian woman walks past an anti-U.S. mural painted on the wall of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran on Nov. 19, 2011. ATTA KENARE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

By Tony BurmanSpecial to the Star
There will be a war in the Middle East within the next several months, triggered by an Israeli attack on Iran, and this is how it will happen. Like the Iraq war, it will be a fatal blend of political arrogance and near criminal risk-taking, and this should come as no surprise to us because we know the political players. But we should also know that the time to prevent it is running out.

In Iran, the government is reeling from colossal economic and political pressures. There are signs of desperation. Western sanctions over its nuclear program are biting and there is an open power struggle among key government leaders. The murders since 2010 of four nuclear scientists — most certainly masterminded by agents of Israel’s Mossad — are deeply humiliating. With parliamentary elections in March regarded by many as the most important in the history of the Islamic republic, the pressure within Iran to hit back at Israel in some damaging way is inevitable — and this will happen soon.

In Israel, the calculation is also overwhelmingly political. The fractious government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is obsessed with the prospect of a nuclear Iran even if the evidence is still unclear how imminent that threat is. Netanyahu is also driven by his bitter rivalry with President Barack Obama. There is growing speculation the prime minister will trigger early Israeli elections in June to shore up his political position before Obama, as Netanyahu believes, is re-elected in November. He knows his best opportunity to attack Iran will be shortly before the U.S. election when he figures Obama would be politically cornered. But Netanyahu needs a pretext to act in “self-defence” and that is why Mossad is still covertly at work inside Iran. Iran will have to retaliate before Israel can act — and this will happen soon.

In the United States, Obama is caught up in the morass of election-year politics. His likely Republican presidential rival, Mitt Romney, is accusing the president of being weak on Iran: “If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.” The U.S. and its European allies now have a deadline of July 1 to impose a full embargo of Iranian oil. Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, claimed on Wednesday that a decision to launch a pre-emptive strike is “very far off.” But U.S. defence officials, according to the Wall Street Journal, are increasingly concerned that Israel is preparing to strike Iran — and this will happen soon.

READ MORE: Burman’s columns

Can we be certain that events in the Middle East will unfold in this way? Of course not. But like a high-stakes poker game where each player slowly reveals his cards, there are increasing signs that this game is careening out of control.

There is no consensus within Israel in favour of an attack on Iran. In fact, a recent poll suggests that less than half of Israelis (43 per cent) support a strike even though 90 per cent of them believe Iran will eventually acquire nuclear weapons. But the drumbeats for action are growing louder inside of Israel and they are egged on in the U.S. by the shrill tone of the extremist Republican primary process.

In Israel, the political case in favour of a strike, led by Netanyahu, points to its limited attack in 2007 on a burgeoning Syrian nuclear facility. But there are crucial differences this time. Iran’s nuclear facilities are well-dispersed and well-defended, and most experts believe that such a strike would likely fail or, at best, only delay Iran’s nuclear ambitions for a year or two.

But even more significant are the potentially frightening consequences of such a strike. Iran has threatened to hit back with full fury if its nuclear facilities are attacked. It could place Israel in considerable peril and lead to a resurgence of anti-American fever. Such a strike would also strengthen Iran’s rulers internally at a time of its greatest weakness and would radicalize the Arab world.

Serious people are doing serious work to prevent this from happening. There are meetings later this month in Tehran with officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the move to stiffen sanctions against Iran is accelerating. However, this first decade of the 21st century serves as no model. Disastrous decisions were made by political leaders in an environment of arrogance and stupidity, and these disasters were condoned by a public which largely chose to look the other way and a news media which, at various times, was either complicit or incompetent.

Let’s hope that, in the handling of Iran, history is not repeating itself.

Tony Burman, former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News, teaches journalism at Ryerson University. tony.burman@gmail.com

January 1, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Nuclear weapons/power.
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Published on Friday, January 1, 2010 by the Los Angeles Times

Nuclear Hero’s ‘Crime’ Was Making Us Safer

by Daniel Ellsberg

Mordechai Vanunumy friend, my hero, my brotherhas again been arrested in Israel on “suspicion” of the “crime” of “meeting with foreigners.” I myself have been complicit in this offense, traveling twice to Israel for the express purpose of meeting with him, openly, and expressing support for the actions for which he was imprisoned for over eighteen years. His offense has been to defy openly and repeatedly ,conditions put on his freedom of movement and associations and speech after he had served his full sentence, restrictions on his human rights which were a direct carry-over from the British Mandate, colonial regulations in clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such restrictions have no place in a nation evincing respect for a rule of law and fundamental human rights. His arrest and confinement are outrages and should be ended immediately.

My perspective on Mordechai and his behavior was expressed as well as I could do it today in the following op-ed published in 2004 on the day of his release from prison. I can only say that I would be proud to be known as the American Vanunu: though my own possible sentence of 115 years for revealing state secrets was averted by disclosure of government misconduct against me which pales next to the Israeli misconduct in assaulting, drugging and kidnapping Vanunu in the process of bringing him to trial, let alone the eleven years of solitary confinement he was forced to endure.

***[Published 4/21/04 in the Los Angeles Times]

Mordechai Vanunu is the preeminent hero of the nuclear era. He consciously risked all he had in life to warn his own country and the world of the true extent of the nuclear danger facing us. And he paid the full price, a burden in many ways worse than death, for his heroic act — for doing exactly what he should have done and what others should be doing.

Vanunu’s “crime” was committed in 1986, when he gave the London Sunday Times a series of photos he had taken within the Israeli nuclear weapons facility at Dimona, where he had worked as a technician.

For that act — revealing that his country’s program and stockpile were much larger than the CIA or others had estimated — Vanunu was kidnapped from the Rome airport by agents of the Israeli Mossad and secretly transported back for a closed trial in which he was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

He spent the first 11 1/2  years in solitary confinement in a 6-by-9-foot cell, an unprecedented term of solitary under conditions that Amnesty International called “cruel, inhuman and degrading.”

Now, after serving his full term, he is due to be released today. But his “unfreedom” is to be continued by restrictions on his movements and his contacts: He cannot leave Israel, he will be confined to a single town, he cannot communicate with foreigners face to face or by phone, fax or e-mail (purely punitive conditions because any classified information that he may have possessed is by now nearly two decades old).

The irony of all this is that no country in the world has a stronger stake than Israel in preventing nuclear proliferation, above all in the Middle East. Yet Israel’s secret nuclear policies — to this day it does not acknowledge that it possesses such weapons — are shortsighted and self-destructive. They promote rather than block proliferation by encouraging the country’s neighbors to develop their own, comparable weapons.

This will not change without public mobilization and democratic pressure, which in turn demand public awareness and discussion. It was precisely this that Vanunu sought to stimulate.

Not in Israel or in any other case — not that of the U.S., Russia, England, France, China, India or Pakistan — has the decision to become a nuclear weapons state ever been made democratically or even with the knowledge of the full Cabinet. It is likely that in an open discussion not one of these states could convince its own people or the rest of the world that it had a legitimate reason for possessing as many warheads as the several hundred that Israel allegedly has (far beyond any plausible requirement for deterrence).

More Vanunus are urgently needed. That is true not only in Israel but in every nuclear weapons state, declared and undeclared. Can anyone fail to recognize the value to world security of a heroic Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian or North Korean Vanunu making comparable revelations?

And the world’s need for such secret-telling is not limited to citizens of what nuclear weapons states presumptuously call rogue nations. Every nuclear weapons state has secret policies, aims, programs and plans that contradict its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the 1995 Declaration of Principles agreed to at the NPT Renewal Conference. Every official with knowledge of these violations could and should consider doing what Vanunu did.

That is what I should have done in the early ’60s based on what I knew about the secret nuclear planning and practices of the United States when I consulted at the Defense Department, on loan from the Rand Corp., on problems of nuclear command and control. I drafted the Secretary of Defense Guidance to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the general nuclear war plans, and the extreme dangers of our practices and plan were apparent to me.

I now feel derelict for wrongfully keeping secret the documents in my safe revealing this catastrophically reckless posture. But I did not then have Vanunu’s example to guide me.

When I finally did have an example in front of me — that of young Americans who were choosing to go to prison rather than participate in what I too knew was a hopeless, immoral war — I was inspired in 1971 to turn over a top-secret history of presidential lies about the war in Vietnam to 19 newspapers. I regret only that I didn’t do it earlier, before the bombs started falling.

Vanunu should long since have been released from solitary and from prison, not because he has “suffered enough” but because what he did was the correct and courageous thing to do in the face of the foreseeable efforts to silence and punish him.

The outrageous and illegal restrictions proposed to be inflicted on him when he finally steps out of prison after 18 years should be widely protested and rejected, not only because they violate his fundamental human rights but because the world needs to hear this man’s voice.

The cult and culture of secrecy in every nuclear weapons state have endangered humanity and continues to threaten its survival. Vanunu’s challenge to that wrongful and dangerous secrecy must be joined worldwide.

Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times

Daniel Ellsberg, a former State Department and Defense Department official, released the ‘Pentagon Papers’ to the press in 1971.

A Choice Between Peace and Peril February 23, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Posted on Feb 23, 2009, www.truthout.com
AP photo / Hasan Sarbakhshian

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a ceremony in Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz.

By Chris Hedges

Bibi Netanyahu’s assumption of power in Israel sets the stage for a huge campaign by the Israeli government, and its well-oiled lobby groups in Washington, to push us into a war with Iran.

Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, according to U.S. and European intelligence agencies. But reality rarely impedes on politics. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, along with Netanyahu, all talk as if Iran is on the brink of dropping the big one on the Jewish state.

Netanyahu on Friday named Iran as Israel’s main threat after he was called to form a new government following the Feb. 20 elections.

“Iran is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon and constitutes the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony at President Shimon Peres’ official residence. “The terrorist forces of Iran threaten us from the north,” the presumptive prime minister said in reference to Lebanon and Syria, where Israel says Tehran supplies arms to Hezbollah and Hamas. “For decades, Israel has not faced such formidable challenges.”

Netanyahu, whose arrogance is as outsized as his bellicosity, knows that for all his threats and chest thumping, Israel is incapable of attacking Iranian targets alone. Israel cannot fly its attack aircraft over Iraqi air space into Iran without U.S. permission, something George W. Bush refused to grant, fearing massive retaliatory strikes by Iran on American bases in Iraq. Israel’s air force is not big enough to neutralize the multiple targets, from radar stations to missile batteries to Revolutionary Guard units to bunkers housing Iran’s Soviet- and Chinese-made fighter jets and bombers, and also hit suspected nuclear targets. The only route to a war with Tehran for the Israeli military is through Washington.

Netanyahu’s resolve to strike Iran means that we will soon hear a lot about the danger posed by Iran—full-page ads in American newspapers from Israel lobby groups have appeared in the past few days. Allowing this rhetoric to cloud reality, as we did during the buildup to the war with Iraq, would shut down the best chance for stability in the Middle East—a negotiated settlement with Iran. This may not finally stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, but a stable relationship with Iran would do more to protect Israel and our interests in the Middle East than massive airstrikes and a war that would bleed into Iraq and Lebanon and see Iranian missiles launched against Israeli cities.

“If you go into a problem with a mistaken assumption, you come out with a bad policy,” said Sam Gardner, a retired colonel of the U.S. Air Force who has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, Air War College and Naval War College, and who opposes the Israeli campaign to strike Iran.

Iran’s nuclear program is currently monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran had amassed about 2,227 pounds of low-enriched, or reactor-grade, nuclear fuel by late January, according to the latest updates from the arms control watchdog for the United Nations. To produce the 55 pounds of highly enriched, or weapons-grade, uranium needed for an atomic warhead, Iran would need 2,205 to 3,748 pounds of low-enriched uranium. It apparently has this amount—which is why Netanyahu refers to Iran as “an existential threat” to the Israeli state. But Iran has made no move to enrich the uranium and until it does cannot be accused of having a nuclear weapons program. Iran also does not have enough high-speed centrifuges at its facility in Natanz to further refine the uranium, according to the United Nations.

Iran has turned to its old nemesis Russia for assistance as Israel has become more strident. The work on the Bushehr nuclear reactor will soon be assisted by 3,000 Russian technicians. And Russia has promised to sell the S-300 missile to Iran to boost that nation’s air defense systems. The Russian Federation Security Council and the State Council’s new national security strategy statement says that the primary focus of the struggle over the next decade will be on hydrocarbons. The Middle East and Central Asia are mentioned specifically. In these areas, according to the document, the struggle could develop into a military confrontation. And, while the document does not mention the United States, there is no other rival military force in the region that can match the Russian machine. The more we push Iran the more Iran flees into the arms of the Russians and the closer we come to a new Cold War struggle for control of diminishing natural resources. Iranian officials have barred inspections of facilities producing centrifuge parts, a move which worries arms control specialists. Iran may be planning to build an undeclared centrifuge facility separate from Natanz. Iran has also barred inspectors from its heavy-water reactor near Arak, an action that has concerned inspectors who hope to examine the site for possible telltale “clandestine” features that could be used in a weapons program. These signs would indicate that Iran could begin a nuclear weapons program. But as of now there is no such program. We should stop speaking as if one exists.

The destruction of Iraq as a unified state has left Iran the power broker in the Middle East. This was the result of our handiwork and the misguided militarism of Israeli politicians such as Netanyahu. Iran, like it or not, holds the power to decide the outcome of several conflicts that are vital to American security. It has enormous influence with Hamas and Hezbollah and can accelerate or diminish the conflict between Israel and these groups. It and the U.S. are now the major outside forces in Iraq. The Shiite-led Baghdad government consults closely with Iran and for this reason has told the Iranian resistance group the MEK that it has 60 days to leave Iraqi territory and may see its leaders arrested and tried for war crimes. Once American forces leave Iraq, it is Iran, more than any other nation, that will determine the future of any Iraqi government. And, finally, Iran has for centuries been embroiled in the affairs of Afghanistan. It alone has the influence to stabilize the conflict, one that increasingly threatens to spill over into Pakistan. Afghan politicians have sharply criticized the Iranian government for deporting more than 30,000 Afghans who had fled to Iran since October. Many, unable to find work or return to their villages, have signed up to fight for the Taliban, according to U.S. intelligence reports.

Iran has endured our covert support for armed militant groups from the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO) to the Free Life Party of Kurdistan to the repugnant Jundullah, also known as the Army of God, a Sunni fundamentalist group that operates with U.S. support out of Pakistan. Jundullah has carried out a series of bombings and ambushes inside Iran. The militant group has a habit of beheading Iranians it captures, including a recent group of 16 Iranian police officials, and filming and distributing the executions. Iran has coped with nearly three decades of sanctions imposed by Washington. The U.S. support for the militant groups and the sanctions, meant to help change the regime in Tehran, have failed.

There is a lot riding on whom President Obama names as his special envoy to Iran. If, as expected, it is Dennis Ross, a former official of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, we will be in deep trouble. Ross, who is expected to be placed in charge of the Iranian portfolio this week, is a vocal supporter of Israel’s call for increased pressure on Iran. He is distrusted, even despised, in the Muslim world and especially in Tehran. With good reason, he is not viewed as an impartial broker.

Ross has called for more draconian sanctions against Iran, something Russia or the five companies that provide Iran’s refined petroleum products are not likely to support. (The companies include the Swiss firm Vitol, the French giant Total and the Indian firm Reliance.) Ross backs the covert support for proxy groups and, I would assume, the alleged clandestine campaign by Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists. Mossad is rumored to be behind the death of Ardeshire Hassanpour, a top nuclear scientist at Iran’s Isfahan uranium plant, who died in mysterious circumstances from reported “gas poisoning” in 2007, according to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. “Other recent deaths of important figures in the procurement and enrichment process in Iran and Europe have been the result of Israeli ‘hits,’ intended to deprive Tehran of key technical skills at the head of the program, according to the analysts,” the paper reported.

It remains unmentioned that Israel, which refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—signed by Iran—is in possession of 200 to 300 nuclear warheads, perhaps the single most important factor in the Middle East nuclear arms race.

“For the US to shape a peaceful relationship with Iran will be difficult under any circumstances,” Stephen Kinzer, author of “All the Shah’s Men,” wrote recently. “If the American negotiating team is led by Ross or another conventional thinker tied to dogmas of the past, it will be impossible.”

Obama has an opportunity to radically alter the course we have charted in the Middle East. The key will be his administration’s relationship with Iran. If he gives in to the Israel lobby, if he empowers Ross, if he defines Iran as the enemy before he begins to attempt a negotiated peace, he could ignite a fuse that will see our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan evolve into a regional conflagration. This may be the most important decision of his presidency. Let’s pray he does not blow it.

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