Monday, October 12, 2009

Chapter 10. Trust but verify

Rahm Emmanuel sent the President a text message while sitting six feet away from him in the White House Situation Room. It read “Let’s talk.”

The President slipped his iPhone back in his pocket. People were used to seeing him fiddle with it, having recently switched from his very well-known Blackberry at the insistence of NSA. He interrupted the free-for-all discussion that was in play, “People. I have to take a break, Rahm can you walk with me for a moment.”

The two exited the confines of the of the conference room.

“What’s up?” asked the President.

“Not sure, but I think I like it. This Bin Laden grab has ‘Second Term’ written all over it. It shuts up those bastards who were whining about the Nobel Prize and it would boost the economy by spiking confidence - and probably the market - without having to change a thing legislatively.”

“So, we’re doing it.”

“Yeah, but no one’s looked at the downside. We always do that. You and I just need to take a second and do that.”

“Rahm, Hillary heard the whole thing. If I don’t go after Bin Laden now, she’ll leak it. She’ll leak it to the Brits or something and it’ll come back through channels, but she will leak it and you know it,” suggested Obama.

“I know. But you could - if you had to - create a compelling reason why you reversed course. I mean, you could claim he was hiding in a kindergarten or some such shit,” countered Emmanuel.

“Look, this is a good thing. Downside is we lose a plane, bomb a kindergarten, get accused of helping the Israelis. What else?”

“You think Fox News would give a flying fuck about a kindergarten full of Iranian kids? The story would be about you and your failure to attack Bin Laden.” challenged the Chief of Staff, with a flourish of his usual colorful style.

“Rahm, I don’t know what alarms are going off for you but all those possibilities are already real. Bombing Bin Laden changes nothing but the upside.”

“You trust Netanyahu?”

Obama looked down. He didn’t want Emmanuel to read anything in his eyes.

“No, I don’t. But Ehud Barak set this up, not Natanyahu. I think Ehud convinced Netanyahu to allow it.”


“Beats me.” The President shrugged as he replied.

“Maybe he feels like he owes you something?” Emmanuel was pressing to see if there was something that he wasn’t aware of, something that needed to be considered in the mix of political, economic, and military variables that seemed to inevitably intersect when decisions were made at this level.

“I can’t tell you Rahm. Not this time. It’s better if I don’t. Now, I’ve gotta get back in there.” Even if he hadn’t been forthcoming, the President did feel good to have been honest with his right-hand man.

“There’s always a downside Barack, what’s the downside?”

“I don’t know,” said the President. They were words he seldom uttered.”

Ballistic missiles are a lot like stones. They accelerate to their apogee and fall back to earth according to their aerodynamics and their inertia. After, their fuel is consumed, ballistic missiles are just like rocks thrown at the enemy.

The inertial guidance system of the Iranian long-range missiles were programmed to tug their noses down to force an impact with a pre-determined point on earth. Before their fuel had been exhausted, the hackers had stretched that flight path out by changing the algorithm used to project the grid from several satellites over the earth, and the missiles were allowed to fly well out into the Meditteranean. Like a Mercator projection, the distortion was most evident at the extremes and it was unlikely it was noticed by the Americans, Iraqis or Iranians. No civilians would have been affected.

In the cold October dawn, Avi, Jael and Alon looked into the Eastern sky, expecting to see flaming telephone pole-sized projectiles zipping past. But the missiles had long since consumed all of their fuel. A few were indeed visible framed against the indigo sky as the rising sun reflected off their sand-colored skin. Some still had a trail of smoke or vapor tailing them. But the sheer numbers were better appreciated by the sonic booms. Each missile created a double boom as it passed overhead at a speed greater than the speed of sound, and the ground around Jerusalem reverberated with the concussion of dozens of aerial explosions.

“Alon, you’ll be needed in a few moments if the Americans decide to strike. Don’t get lost,” cautioned Avi.

“I’ll keep an eye on him,” promised Jael.

“Yeah, right,” replied Avi as he left the deck and headed for the elevator.

Alon had been standing near the railing with his arm around Jael as the three were watching for the missiles, so it was easy for him to curl his arm around and turn her toward himself.

“Did you make a wish?” she asked, as though the two had been watching falling stars.

“I suppose you could say that,” whispered Alon.

“Then why don’t we go back inside so I can make your dreams come true?” asked Jael with a sly smile.”

Alon did not argue. He raised his left hand and swept a cascade of blonde hair from her right cheek and sent it streaming over her ear and onto her shoulder. As he leaned forward to kiss her, his hand traced the strong lines of her face. His fingertips followed her neckline, tracing a gently curving and descending path to her open blouse.

There his hand met hers,

Jael slipped two more buttons through their mated buttonholes and lowered her arms. Alon accepted her invitation.

It had been almost two years since Jael had kissed a man with abandon the way she was kissing Alon. She was particular, yes, but also she had desperately needed to heal. Jael thought of it as needing time to forget, but after 18 months she finally began to realize that she was never going to forget Eli - and, in fact, she didn’t want to forget. Such a Jewish thing, to have so much you wish you could forget, yet such a strong desire to remember it all, to celebrate it, to enshrine it, study it, defend it and maybe someday understand it.

But this feeling for Alon was simpler than that. This was a palpable tug at her heart that Jael felt from the first time she saw Alon. She had first regarded him as a sort of stuffed animal - cute and cuddly, but not handsome. He was innocent-looking, like he would be receptive to some good old-fashioned nurturing and affection. He could take her teasing without complaining, and he’d responded with growing fervor to her flirting. That was good, because it meant to her that he was making an emotional investment. That was important to her, because she didn’t want just a lover. She was ready to fall in love again and rebuild that part of her life - the part that had been destroyed by an 18 year old Palestinian girl, Hiba Jaradat, a girl who had never met Eli, who had never seen his brown eyes flash in the candlelight. A girl whose desperate need to be appreciated in a culture that offers women little in the way of a future, and nothing in the way of romance had played a large part in Hiba’s willingness to wear the bomb. She may have been told that the 72 houri-el-ein would be awaiting her at the gates of heaven to cleanse her of her sins and provide to her every pleasure of mankind that Allah has provided - that was the usual line. Or, she may have been told that if she refused, she would be raped and sold into sexual slavery. These were the methods that the terrorist cowards used to enlist children to do their evil bidding. In essence, her handlers used her innocence to destroy her and to shock Israel into believing that this war of terror against them would never end.

So, one June night at a club in Natanya, while Jael stood on the beach making a cell phone call to her parents in East Talpiot, Hiba walked into the club carrying an armful of roses, pretending to offer them to the gentlemen who might buy them for their lady friends. Eli, who had been sitting at a table near the edge of the dance floor saw her and got up to buy a flower, no doubt for Jael.

The surveilance tapes show Eli walking up about eight feet behind her as she drops the bundle of flowers. Hiba kneels, as though to pick them up, but instead, she reaches into her left sleeve and the video ends.

Magan David Adom arrived within three minutes to treat the wounded and transport them to hospital. In that three minutes Jael was unable to find Eli and believed he had escaped. But ZAKA found him. ZAKA is a group of deeply religious volunteers who will scour a suicide bombing scene to recover every piece of flesh, fragment of bone, tuft of hair or human organ, catalog it, identify its owner, and provide it for the traditional rapid interment. Eli’s body had been shredded, returned to his family in a sealed metal cask, inside of a plain oak casket emblazoned by a Menorah and a beautifully carved Shin. Jael never even got to say goodbye.

In the apartment building, their barracks, the couple were in nearly absolute darkness. Jael knew that there were cameras all over the flat, but even with IR chips she knew they couldn’t see through a blanket. She ran to her bunk, removing her blouse as she felt her way through the darkness, returning to Alon and shrouding him with the scratchy, thin, IDF-issue bedcover. He was sitting on a kitchen chair, fighting to remove his boots.

“Alon. Leave the boots. You may need to run if we get paged. Let me help. I want to take your trousers off of you.” She giggled as she heard herself say the words.

“You do?” Alon asked, “We are so alike. I have been wanting to help you do the same.”

Jael stooped, lifted the edge of the blanket and crawled under on her hands and knees.

Alon reached forward and felt her lovely blonde hair in his hands. “I can’t kiss you if you’re down there,” he said with a half-hearted attempt to raise her shoulders

“Ah, but I can,” she said. Alon just crossed his legs behind her and caressed her head in his hands. After a moment she stood. Alon reached out for her belt and in a second she had freed a leg from its confinement.

She moved closer.

“Alon?” She needed to ask him something, anything that would assure her that this would be real, not merely physical, but maybe the beginning of forever.

“Yes, my love?” he whispered.

“Is there anyone else in your life?”

“No,” he said without hesitation, kissing her stomach and exploring her warm and moist body with a gentle touch. “And I hope that is the last time I ever say ‘no’ to you, Jael.”

She reached down and steadied him as she rested on his lap, content and happy, truly happy for the first time in so long. She moved her feet to rest on her toes and she began to sway and rock and move her head front to back, left and right. Alon showered her with kisses, his mouth found every ready nerve, her neck, under her chin, he could feel with his lips her heart pounding between her breasts. She rose and fell as it suited her and she lost herself in the heat and the sensations momentarily trapped under the army blanket and forever in their memories.

The war could bring long periods of loneliness. It could bring death. Jael was going to make sure that there were no wasted moments. Life was to be lived and, while it was still crazy, it was beginning to make sense again.

The Hueys had delayed over their targets after dropping their baby Bunker Busters. Even at about 2 miles altitude, the circling chopper crews could see quite a bit of detail. There was no visible indication of impact, but momentarily a towering explosion followed. After that, there was nothing, nothing to see from above the blast. After fifteen minutes, several dozen Revolutionary Guards poured from their emplacements and began clearing debris, searching for survivors, gloating that only the first few subterranean stories had been compromised. It was equivalent to a victory.

“Mr. President, we’re getting satellite recon from Qom and several other sites. Analysts say the strike was a failure. Direct hits. Looks like a one-ton bunker buster. They were delivered by the Hueys and they failed to penetrate. Maybe damage to fifty feet.”

“How deep are those facilities, do we know?”

“No, sir. We have speculated on the basis of the truckloads of debris that the volume removed from the sites could represent 200 to 300 foot-deep facilities.”

“Crap! They just swatted at a fucking wasp and did nothing but piss it off!” interjected the President’s Chief of Staff.

“Yeah, it’s not good,” agreed Obama. “Leon, I thought you said they were the best in the world.”

“I did,” said Panetta humbly.

“Admiral Mullen,” Obama leaned on the conference table with both hands and looked his Chairman Joint Chiefs in the face. “I’m canceling the mission to...”

“Shit, sir!” exclaimed Morrell. “Oh shit!”

“Talk to us,” ordered the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

“There’s been a secondary explosion at Qom, sir. I don’t know. It’s blown the side of the fucking hill off.”

“Put it up, Major.” ordered the President. With two fast flicks of his fingers, the officer manipulating images and data sent the live images, streaming from a high-resolution satellite feed, to the 60-inch display.

“Sirs, that’s where Qom used to be. Here, Major, please insert the image we took just 30 minutes ago. Hang on. Hang on. There, see? The semi-circle is where the mountain was carved away and the facility was directly beneath.”

“Mike?” General Holland was calling through the speaker phone.

“Bill?” Holland replied.

“Mike, it was brilliant. They engineered a one-two punch, and I mean engineered it. There’s so much debris in those holes now if anyone WAS left alive underneath it’ll take months to dig them out. They’re not gonna’ bother. Damn brilliant. Brilliant! I’d say the Iranian nuclear program is dead AND buried.”

"Where'd it come from?" asked Admiral Mullen.

"No one knows, sir. Spooky as hell." added Morrell.

“They’re the best in the world.” said Leon Panetta with a smile.

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