What, if anything, did Israeli intelligence know in real time about Arafat’s medical condition? This question has occupied high-ranking officials in Israel’s intelligence community over the past few days, as well as cabinet and Knesset members.

A political source in Jerusalem says that the intelligence community did not supply the state leaders with any warning about the quick deterioration in Arafat’s condition prior to the publication of the matter by the media. “We were not able to prepare in time for the events that followed, and mainly a great weakness was revealed in the provision of information that we view as critical,” said the source.

Two main agencies in the intelligence community are responsible for supplying information about events in the territories: the GSS and the IDF Intelligence Branch. Since the Karameh battle in March 1968, Israeli intelligence has been continually monitoring Yasser Arafat for 24 hours a day, using all possible methods and devices.

Part of the monitoring was always devoted to Arafat’s health condition as well. It was clear that his disappearance from the scene would lead to great changes in the region’s political map. It is possible, for example, that had Prime Minister Sharon known a month ago that Arafat was a dying man, he would have acted differently with regard to disengagement.

Even when semi-official Palestinian sources began to talk about the severe condition of the rais at the beginning of the week, a leading intelligence official reacted to this with dismissal. Initial reports from the intelligence community reached the prime minister and defense minister on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, a senior GSS official briefed the Intelligence and Secret Services Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Only then did the intelligence community present a comprehensive report on the blood tests given to Arafat, which indicated that his thrombocyte (platelet) count stands at about 30,000 (in a healthy person the count is about 200,000-250,000 and must not drop below 150,0000).

GSS and IDF Intelligence officials said that there was no way of knowing in advance about the severe decline in Arafat’s condition, since his physicians were also surprised. At most, said intelligence officials in their defense, we can know what the doctors know.

However, senior intelligence sources say that the IDF Intelligence Branch and GSS actually had excellent information on Arafat’s condition, but the nature of this information could not be revealed due to a need to protect intelligence sources.

The GSS and IDF Spokesperson’s Office refused to respond to queries on the matter.