Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon told a Be'er Sheva chamber of commerce conference last night that the Israeli establishment had discussed killing Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

"The question of why we didn't kill Arafat is worth a discussion," Ya'alon said. "There were discussions about it in the past, but after weighing up the gains and benefits... we rejected the idea outright."

It was the first time a senior Israeli official has mentioned discussions about assassinating Arafat. The issue was apparently raised at various times, in particular after the Park Hotel bombing last year March that led to Operation Defensive Shield, and after the wave of terror attacks last September that led to Israel renewing its siege on the Muqata, Arafat's Ramallah headquarters.

It appears the discussions did not reach any practical point and no preparations were made for the attempt on Arafat's life. Last year, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised U.S. President George Bush that Israel would not harm Arafat.

On the other hand, the defense and political establishments have conducted numerous debates about deporting Arafat. According to foreign reports, Sayeret Matkal (the general staff's special operations force) trained for an operation to arrest Arafat in Ramallah and deport him from the territories.

Senior defense officials, among them then chief of staff and current Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, favored such an operation. Mofaz even made his opinion public.

The question of deporting Arafat gradually slipped from the agenda, in part because of intelligence assessments that deportation would strengthen his international standing.

When Ya'alon assumed his post in July last year, he froze all discussions on the subject. The issue returned in recent months after the wave of Hamas terror attacks.