Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Chapter 7. The Negev

Despite its relatively small size, it is one of the world’s most rugged deserts, stretching from Be’er Sheva in the north to the Red Sea resort city, Eilat, to the south. On the west the desert extends all the way to the shores of the Egyptian Meditterranean, while to the east, the Negev ends at the Dead Sea, or the geologic rift that cuts south from the lowest point on earth. Within this strange and beautiful triangle, deep and sharp chasms penetrate brown, red, violet, orange and ochre mountain ranges that rise like row after row of shark’s teeth. Here and there, vast dry plains extend from one mountain range to another and narrow wadis allow the shepherd or Bedouin to hunt, explore, or simply navigate from place to place. Nomads have traversed this land for perhaps 30,000 to 50,000 years.

There was life in the desert. Along some of the wadis, fresh water streams flowed, providing life to great stands of bamboo, acacia, fruit and almond trees, snakes, amphibians, small rodents, larger arboreal Hydrax that looked like part woodchuck and part squirrel, panthers and the regal Ibex, an antelope with giant curved horns the diameter of a hula hoop. Ibex could run along the side of a mountain as though there were a wide, flat path - when there was no path at all.

Because the desert does not tend to remove any scars placed upon it, but rather seems to be created from a collection of scars, all the hills are circumscribed by parallel lines, some a few feet apart, some only inches apart, but each roughly level, no matter the steepness of the grade. These paths are ancient, formed by a thousand generations of sheep, Ibex, perhaps even lions and tigers that once ruled the desert here.

In the last several centuries the nomads were authentic arabs, the Bedouin, and the animals traversing these slopes were their sheep and camels. Many who never saw a living Bedu, knew them from the film Lawrence of Arabia. But even before the Bedouin, the most famous group were a generation of nomads called Ibaru, translated as Hebrew, who came through the very northern tip of this land. Except for one, a certain Moses, who remained on a mountain named Nebo to the east of the rift, a camel-backed mountain that rises prominently over the Dead Sea, where he had a good view of this rugged and beautiful land that was given to his people by the One who created it.

The road south from Be’er Sheva to Eilat takes a sharp right at Dimona. Just southwest of the highway, and a half-mile through the desert, lies a heavily guarded facility surrounded by two concentric circular bulldozed mounds. To enter, one must go through two offset openings. There is no direct route. Four other facilities nearby, identical in every way to the first are found in similar situations just off the highway. And thre were many more, protected by the desolation of the desert.

An aerial view of the roadways near these facilities would reveal an interesting construction not visible from the roads. Trenches, four to five feet deep, cutting jagged lines roughly parallel to the thoroughfares allowed infantry to defend the facilities or close the roads. The jagged angles that the trench line followed meant that if the enemy were to take a position within the excavation, the same trench could protect defenders even just a few feet away. It was a technique as old as DaVinci, perfected in World War One. Here and there, a corner was flattened to allow for the mounting of a 50 cal. machine gun.

Ari Ma’oz put the phone down, walked across the white tiled room and methodically, calmly, placed a steel key into a gray painted steel panel and turned it 180 degrees. A white light beneath a multi-faceted glass lens suddenly shone. A simple sign to let Colonel Ma’oz know that he had access to the fire control for a dozen medium range, solid fuel Jericho 2 ballistic missiles. The guidance solutions would be sent by telemetry if there were any need to change them, otherwise, each was already programmed for a certain latitude and longitude that pass each other in a country called Iran. Ma’oz knew the targets and the thought crossed his mind that it had been something like 4,000 years since there was a war between the Jews and the Persians.

Jael Simcha, Avi Ben-Tzvi, Alon Rosen and Danny Peled were leaning toward the computer monitor. Simcha and Rosen were also watching a second monitor displaying two rapidly changing sets of digits. The small room in the basement of the Davidka Street apartment was lined with electronics, and racks of equipment were ablaze with flashing lights, miniature screens and displays. The overhead fluorescent lights beat at 50 Hertz and created an eerie clash with some of the displays that had a clock speed of 60 Hertz. It took a little getting used to.

Peled picked up the ringing phone. “Shalom. Uh huh. Lo. Ken, ken. Peled. Ken. Todah (pause) Shalom.”

“Was that it?” asked Captain Ben-Tzvi.

“That was it,” responded Peled. “That was Ehud Barak asking me to confirm our moving target.”

“So now you can tell me what we’re watching?” asked Alon Rosen. Rosen had been recently conscripted into the gang of Israeli geeks because of his incredible electronics skills, particularly in nano technology, the microscopic electronics that could place complex circuitry on small bits of metal or silicon that were the size of a grain of sand. Rosen had conceived of a nano chip that would emit energy when struck by a specific radio frequency. Hit the chip with frequency A and it emits frequency B. The emission was weak, but if it were on a clear space on the dial in an ultra high frequency, it could be detected from a long way away. Rosen had named the chips “translators,” because they translated frequency A to frequency B. He hadn’t bothered to developed an application.

“Jael, play the disk for Alon,” ordered Danny Peled.

Jael leaned down to find the disc on a well-organized shelf beneath the disc player. Her wavy blonde hair dropped off her shoulders and framed her beautiful face. She felt Alon’s eyes on her and she looked up to meet his eyes and then back again to the shelf. In a moment the disk was in and video appeared.

Jael narrated, “You see who we have on tape. It’s Mr. Ahmadinijad. Look carefully. What do you see?”

“Ah, he is speaking to a few politicians, the media I think, maybe that’s a Mullah over his shoulder. He’s signing something. He’s left handed. Is that it?” asked Rosen.

Peled interjected, “Play it again.”

Jael objected, “He’s not going to get it. Just tell him.”

“Just tell me,” pleaded Rosen.

“He’s a genius. He’ll get it,” insisted Peled.

The disk had already started again.

“Wait for the next cut,” suggested Jael. Rosen glanced again at her and thought he noticed she had undone one additional button on her light blue IDF blouse. Again she caught his eye. “I’m quite certain he’ll get it.” and she and Rosen shared his embarrassed grin - which he promptly turned against her with a finger wag.

“Alright,” Rosen continued the narration,”He is at another meeting. Again he is signing something. He’s still left handed. He...wait. I want to see the first one.”

“No,” said Jael. “It’s gone. Watch the next one.” And almost immediately another cut and another signing ceremony.

“Why do you suppose he signs so many documents?” asked Rosen.

“It looks like he’s in charge, like he’s doing something,” suggested Ben-Tzvi. Scribes have always been honored, he thinks he’s a scribe.

“I’ve got it, you know.” said Rosen without much enthusiasm.

“I knew you would eventually,” replied Jael, and for some reason, Alon Rosen thought her words were filled with the promise of deliberate double entendre. He looked her straight in the eye and she just grinned, until the edges of her olive-shaped eyes collapsed into narrow lines. Rosen finally had to look away. The other two men just exchanged glances and shook their heads. Both had hoped to get closer to Major Jael Simcha - with no response. Suddenly, this Rosen walks into their midst and she practically throws herself at him.

“So tell us, now” commanded Peled.

“He is using the same gold pen.”

“Very good. Where is the pen from?”

“Where is it from?” asked Rosen. “How the hell would I know that?”

“Look at it,” demanded Peled.

“Yes! I am looking at it. It’s a nice gold pen.”

“Does it look like this?” asked Peled, handing Rosen a gold pen.

“I suppose it looks exactly like this, doesn’t it?”

“Yes. Because they all have the UN logo on them. Do you see it?” inquired Peled.

“Of course, that is the UN logo. What Israeli doesn’t recognize the UN logo? But why does he have a UN pen?”

Jael took the question, “Because he stole it. He stole a whole box of them. In 2008, when he first went to New York to speak at the Security Council he went into the ready room. They have coffee and make-up for the camera if the speaker wants it. They have a telephone and pastries and pads and pens. He stole the box. We noticed that before his most recent trip in August he was no longer using the UN pens. So we placed a box in the room and he stole the pens again.”

“I am shocked. You have proved that Ahmadinijad is a thief.” said Rosen with sarcastic emphasis.

“You should be upset,” said Ben-Tzvi. “He also stole some of your nano chips that we put inside those pens.”

“Shit!” exclaimed Rosen. “They work!”

“Of course they work, you Einstein!” glowed Simcha. That’s him blinking away on the screen.”

“Damn!” said Rosen, his thoughts reeling.”Are they going...?”

Ben-Tzvi knew where he was going with that question, so he interrupted, “We don’t know. One of our jobs was to establish contact. We have our hooks into a number of satellites from this room and we found the signal. As long as the local FM radio station stays on the air, we’ll have an eye on him.”

“What they do with him is not our business,” Peled added hastily.

“So are we done?”

“No, Rosen, we have one more job. It starts when the war starts.”

Rosen turned to face Peled, “I thought the war had started.”

“Not until they start shooting back, Alon. Until then, it’s just an attack.”

As Israeli fighters approached the Iraq/Iran border, Ari Ma’oz typed a code word into a computer and hit the return key. Somewhere in the Negev desert, concrete pads rose from the ground and were rolled by a chain drive 3 meters from their initial position. Water could be heard rushing into the deep wells that lay below the holes the pads had covered moments before. Suddenly, great plumes of yellow smoke shot like a geyser from each opening. One at a time a great green missile rose from each, and, by the time the tail was visible leaping from the ground, the projectile was already traveling east at over 120 miles an hour. It would reach out to one of several pre-selected targets; a radar center, an airfield, a missile site, a command bunker or an anti aircraft emplacement.

On a hillside near Dimona, a Bedu was startled by a spine-chilling roar arising from beyond the nearby wadi. He had awakened to relieve himself and had decided it was time to find his blanket and pray.

To his left, eight ribbons of smoke rose into the moonlit sky. His two camels were growling and pulling at their leads. They were frightened. To his left, another set of ribbons were visible, one by one another group arose from where the roar emanated. Suddenly, from behind him, there were more, and soon the sky was filled with streamers of silver smoke, the second full October moon dancing off the particles that grew thicker and rose like towers.

“Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!” he shouted ecstatically with his hands over his kufiyya and his ears, and not knowing what else to say.

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