Syria's Bashar al-Assad has accused Israel of murdering Yasser Arafat. I think he's right that Arafat was assassinated and that, as Assad says, the deed was executed "under the world's gaze and its silence". And many in the Middle East do believe that Israel was the culprit, but I'm surprised and disappointed if Assad agrees - maybe Syrian intelligence isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Conspiratologists ask: Cui bono? Who gains by it? In this case, not Israel. Back in October 2004, Ariel Sharon was the Israeli government. If Israeli agents had murdered Arafat, it would have been on Sharon's orders. But, whatever the enmity Sharon felt for Arafat, he would have been more than content to have his old foe alive, imprisoned in the Mukata'a in Ramallah, for many years to come.
Sharon needed Arafat. He had absolutely no wish to negotiate with the Palestinians, and a new, more moderate leadership would not have suited him. He'd already decided on Israel's next course - exchange land for security by withdrawing from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, digging in elsewhere behind new borders and building walls to fence in the Palestinians. Arafat's death was against Sharon's interests. I'd even go so far as suggesting that Arafat's death was a personal blow to Sharon, it made his work more difficult, and maybe he'd still be PM today if Arafat hadn't been removed from the equation.
But if not Israel, then who? A conspiracy, by definition, involves more than one party. If a conspiracy-theory has at least two parties benefiting, each in their own way, from their supposed secret collaboration, it makes it slightly more plausible. So here's what I think happened "under the world's gaze and its silence".
2003 had been a difficult year in Franco-US relations, for obvious reasons. So France, ie Chirac, decided it was in the French national interest to mend the breach, whatever it took. So Jacques asks George, frere, what can we do for you, to prove our undying friendship? Dick responds - help us unblock the Middle East peace process, it might even help our re-election. Help us get the Syrians out of Lebanon, and who will rid us of that troublesome PLO leader, whom Sharon insists he won't negotiate with?
So, sometime in 2004, the US and France started to co-operate behind the scenes. The most visible evidence of this was their co-sponsorship of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which ordered Syrian forces out of Lebanon. Resolution 1559 was adopted by the Security Council on September 2, 2004. Presumably, diplomats from both countries had spent some weeks, if not months, working together on the resolution. 1559 was quite an aggressive resolution, given that Syrian forces had brought a shaky peace to Lebanon, yet France had, on this issue, joined forces with the US. Given their recent history, this Franco-US initiative was an unlikely one, but the media generally missed its significance.
Then, in late October '04, Yasser Arafat fell ill, and it was decided he must leave Ramallah to get proper medical attention. "Allah be willing, I'll return soon". Chirac, staunch friend of Arafat and the Palestinianian people, sends a military jet to Amman, Jordan, to where Arafat had been helicoptered. Arafat is whisked to the Percy military hospital outside Paris, arriving on 29 October. He's kept under the tightest security. He's moved to a special unit. Contradictory reports filter out to the crowd. He was reportedly still alive when Bush and Cheney were re-elected on November 3rd, although he had slipped into a coma [Wiki.]. Another report had a different story: "Arafat was said to have been well enough Wednesday [3/11/04] to welcome Bush's re-election and, according to one of his aides, said he hoped for a jumpstart to the moribund Middle East peace process." Anyway, his death was finally announced on November 11th. His wife Suha, who had been the only civilian allowed within the cordon sanitaire, reportedly refused to allow a post mortem to be performed, so the cause of death remains unknown.
Syria did not immediately comply with UNSC Resolution 1559. It took another region-shaking assassination, that of Rafik Hariri in February '05, to generate sufficient pressure on Syria to force it out of Lebanon. Jacques Chirac was known to be Hariri's good friend, and he was the first leader to offer his sympathies to the widow. Jacques had now lost the two ME leaders with whom he was most publicly friendly, within 13 weeks of each other. (To lose one may be regarded as misfortune...) Surely France would be the last place to look for Hariri's killers? Surely Jacques would not be so Machievellian as to have had his old friend murdered, even if it were in France's best national interest? Surely not?
Rafik Hariri was murdered on February 14th, St Valentine's Day. Was somebody maybe trying to win somebody else over, to show their undying friendship, by sending a Valentine's present?
p.s. This conspiracy theory satisfies on at least two levels: the two main actors, France and the US, both benefited in their own way; and two apparently separate mysteries, the deaths of Arafat and Hariri, are explained by a single cause.