Israel Tried to Kill Him for Decades. His Survival Wasn't All Luck

What was behind the failed assassination attempts on Yasir Arafat
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 26, 2018 5:39 PM CST
Israel Tried to Kill Him for Decades. His Survival Wasn't All Luck
This Sept. 21, 1977 file photo shows Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat presenting ABC's Barbara Walters with a handmade dress and mother-of-pearl box following an interview in Beirut.   (AP Photo/Harry Koundakjian)

Israel has turned to assassination to deal with its enemies more than any other western country since WWII. And "no target thwarted, vexed, and bedeviled the Israeli assassination apparatus more than Yasir Arafat," the New York Times reports in a deep look at Israel's futile, decades-long attempt to kill the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Israel first considered assassinating Arafat, whose death many believed would resolve Israel's Palestinian issue, in 1965. "I thought that hitting him would have changed the course of history, " said former Israel Defense Forces special ops expert Meir Dagan, who called Arafat a "kind of founding father of the Palestinian nation." That—for a number of important reasons—proved to be easier said than done.

One reason was—as the head of one assassination operation put it—Arafat's "interminable good luck." On one occasion, Israeli soldiers entered a house where Arafat was based to find his food still warm but the leader nowhere to be found. Another reason were increasingly unlikely plans as killing Arafat became something of an obsession for Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon. In 1968, Israel—inspired by The Manchurian Candidate—spent months brainwashing a Palestinian prisoner to kill Arafat (it didn't work). But mostly Israel's failure to kill Arafat was about an internal struggle over what methods and level of civilian casualties were acceptable for a democratic nation. That struggle played out in Israeli plans to blow up a stadium, shoot down commercial planes, and threaten Israeli journalists. Read the full story here. (More Longform stories.)

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