“Colonel, where are we at with Cyrus?” asked Said Jalili, chairman of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, referring to the most secret operation in Iran’s history, even more secret than their nuclear ambitions
“Everything is set from a logistical standpoint,” replied Colonel Ashkan Rafsanjani. “All we need to do is get all of the troops in place, and I’ll need a little time to do that. I’ve already started moving them a few at a time as I don’t want a sudden and massive influx that would likely draw attention to our plans. That mistake happened before; we don’t want to repeat that.”
“No, we don’t, this is far too important,” admitted Major General Qassim Suleimani, commander of the Iranian Quds Force. “With everything else in order, and given Prime Minister Netanyahu’s UN address yesterday, I believe we should step up the pace of moving your men. We really do not know how much time we have and I do not trust that Israeli pig.”
“Agreed,” said Jalili. “Go ahead and get them over there. There is some urgency here but we must not draw attention to ourselves — and remember, we are not the ones setting the time table here.”
* * *
The two motorcycles appeared without notice. Dr. Zadegan, the chief electrical engineer at the Parchin military complex outside of Tehran, had emerged from his car, after his driver had dropped him off, completely lost in thought about solving the exploding bridge wire detonator problem that one of his colleagues had just discovered. He didn’t even hear the motorcyclists as he walked up to the front door of his house. His driver, though, quickly switched roles from that of a chauffeur to a body guard. As he turned out of Dr. Zadegan’s driveway he noticed the first assassin take out a silenced Heckler & Koch MP-5 submachine gun and lower it at his charge as the biker quickly drove past him. The two second burst fired from the assassin resulted in approximately twenty five rounds being fired at the young electrical engineer. The second assassin didn’t have quite the element of surprise as the first. Zadegan’s body guard noticed the second bike immediately after the first one sped past him. The second one approached so quickly, though, that all he had time to do was throw open his door in an attempt to strike the cycle as it approached his car. The impact threw the assassin off of the bike just as it began to accelerate past him. The cyclist himself completely lost control of the bike, putting it on its side, and sliding under a neighboring parked car, pinning the cyclist.
“Arielle,” Jonah called to the second assassin as he sped away, completely unaware of his compatriots’ predicament, “I couldn’t tell; what’s the status of the target?”
Hearing no answer, Jonah called again, “Arielle, can you hear me?”
No answer; “Arielle?!” Jonah called again, a sense of desperation in his voice.
“We’re down; I’m pinned under a car,” Arielle’s driver reported. “Arielle looks to be in trouble.”
Zadegan’s body guard, who had lost his sidearm when his car door hit the cyclists, saw that the biker had gotten pinned under a car with his bike while the assassin had slid across the pavement and slammed against the wheel of another car. Ignoring the pinned biker, the body guard turned his attention towards the trigger puller. As the body guard charged the assassin, he unsheathed an eight inch razor-sharp double edged knife and swung at his target. The assassin, slightly dazed from being thrown off of the bike and the sudden impact against the parked car, and now unarmed as well, jumped back to avoid the guard’s initial thrust with the knife only to jump back against the side of the car. Consequently, the guard’s initial swing found its mark, slicing the assassin’s left arm and rib cage. With the second thrust, the assassin’s response caught the guard completely by surprise: as the guard took another swing with his right hand, Arielle quickly swung out with her left foot and, using the guard’s momentum against him, kicked the back of the guard’s knife-hand in the direction he was swinging and then immediately followed that up with another kick to guard’s now fully exposed right knee, completely destroying the joint. Arielle picked up the guard’s knife, now laying on the pavement as he had dropped the knife due to the sudden shock of a damaged wrist and a shattered knee, and thrust it into the guard’s chest, severing the aorta. Arielle’s sudden attack was over in seconds.
With the guard dispatched, Arielle grabbed the guard’s car and drove the short distance to her compatriot. Running up to free her friend, she noticed he wasn’t so much pinned under the car as he had a compound leg fracture below the knee. Despite her own injuries, Arielle all but carried him into the back seat of the car, secured him there, and then got back in front and took off.
“Jonah… mission accomplished; ahh…,” Arielle winced in pain, “we’ll need to meet at Jericho as soon as possible” — a reference to a prearranged site where a medic is required.
“Roger that; we’ll see you at Jericho in five minutes,” came the prompt response.
“How’d the other teams do?” Arielle asked.
“Mission accomplished,” came the succinct reply. And with that, Arielle knew that three of Iran’s leading scientists, each working on different components for the development of a nuclear bomb, had just been assassinated.
* * *
If someone didn’t know any better, the man walking out of the meeting could have been in his eighties. As it was, his aged appearance came from the news he had been anticipating, well not really anticipating in the sense that this was something he wanted to hear. No, he had dreaded hearing this news, expecting that it would be coming but still nonetheless hoping against hope that it would not. In point of fact, and try as he might, he still hadn’t recovered from hearing it: Iran would have a nuclear bomb in just a couple months! This couldn’t happen. The Americans had repeatedly stressed that they would never allow this. Now, given the present administration, that threat didn’t look all too ominous. However, the Israelis would never allow this — and everyone in every Western intelligence agency knew that they had been practicing for just such a raid. This would not be just any normal raid, though. This could lead to the total destruction of much of the Middle East: Israel, to be sure, but also his beloved Iran. He couldn’t let this happen. He knew what he had to do, and the weight of this burden almost paralyzed him. He knew that some, perhaps many, of his fellow citizens would die by his actions but in the end, he would be saving a great deal more. Getting into his car, he quietly advised his driver to take him to his home in the resort area of Bashgah-e Savarkri-e. Once there, he would make a phone call on a very secure, and very secret, satellite phone.
“Jim? What’s up?” Thomas “Stonewall’ Jackson asked answering his cell phone. “It’s got to be, what, two thirty in the morning over there?”
“Stonewall, have you left London yet?” Jim Carmichael, the head of the CIA’s Intelligence Directorate asked him.
“Just about to leave for the airport; I have a ten thirty flight to Dulles and London traffic can be horrendous so I figured I’d try and give myself some extra time just in case. Looking forward to getting back home; it’s been unseasonably cool and wet all week — even by London’s standards. It’s supposed to be summer, right; be nice to get back home to some dry weather, warm temperatures, and sunshine!”
“Well, I’m afraid you’re going to have to delay that trip back home for a little while.”
“What’s up? I haven’t heard of anything pressing at the moment. Our friends on this side of the pond really didn’t have anything new on our Persian friends. We know they are pursuing a nuke but the general consensus is that they are still a couple years out. I don’t believe that for a second but I don’t have anything to base that on other than my gut instinct — there’s just too many unanswered questions.”
“Well, you’re going to get that chance to prove your instincts right. I’ve booked you on a 9:45 British Airways flight to Tel Aviv. General Pardo just called and he’s expecting you later this afternoon,” referencing the head of Mossad. “Tamir mentioned that they have something really hot they are working on and wanted to know if we wanted in on it — he knew we would — I think he just wanted the chance to get me out of bed at two in the morning. I told him you’d be on the first flight out of London.”
“Any idea what this is all about?”
“He wouldn’t say over the phone — though we were on a secure line — which leads me to believe it’s extremely sensitive. I realize you’ve never worked with him but he’s a personal friend of mine and he was at K2 with us,” a reference to Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan, “in the first few months after 9/11 while you were in Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance. He knows you’ve recently taken over as my lead on Iranian intelligence and nuclear proliferation and I’ve told him that you’re still active duty, a colonel with the Fifth Group” — that is, Fifth Group Special Forces, whose area of concentration is the Middle East — “so whatever they have for you, he knows you’re more than qualified.”
“Okay, I’m all packed and heading to check out of the hotel right now. Any idea as to who’s picking me up in Tel Aviv? Someone from the embassy or one of the general’s folks?”
“Her name is Danielle Yaniv and, yes, she works for Tamir, but that’s all I know. Go ahead and wear your patch and she’ll find you.”
“Okay, will do.”
“Colonel Jackson?” Danielle asked, leaning towards — and somewhat yelling through — the open passenger window, as she saw someone standing by the curb who she thought fit the description her boss, General Tamir Pardo, had given her: kind of tall, dish-water blonde, well chiseled features — and sporting an eye patch.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Jackson replied. “Call me Tom.”
“Hop in, Tom. I’m Danielle; call me Dani. The Prime Minister scheduled an urgent meeting with Tamir for five thirty so he told me to get you over to his office right away so he’d have the opportunity to meet you before he went in with Bibi,” an informal reference to the Prime Minister. “I’m not sure what his meeting’s all about but I’ll get you there so you’ll have a few minutes with Tamir before he has to leave. By the way, welcome to Israel; have you ever been here before?”
“No, I haven’t but I’m looking forward to the visit,” Jackson replied.
The tail end of Dani’s pony-tail whipped across her face as she snapped her head back towards Jackson, caught completely by surprise on hearing that he had never been to Israel before. This guy came highly recommended by Jim Carmichael, a close friend of Tamir’s from the CIA, yet he had never been to Israel? What was up with this, she wondered.
Jackson, seeing Dani’s expression, partially obstructed by her long hair, sensed this was the wrong answer, though he had no idea why.
* * *
“Stonewall, Jim speaks very highly of you. Nice to finally meet you. You’ve obviously met Arielle; I trust the drive over from the airport wasn’t too eventful,” General Pardo added, somewhat facetiously.
“Tamir! You made it sound pretty urgent that I get him here just as soon as I could, so I did,” Dani interrupted.
“Likewise, General, I’m glad to be here,” Stonewall replied, somewhat surprised by Dani’s interruption.
“Arielle, you won’t believe what this guy did in Afghanistan. In the first few months after 9/11, the US only had a couple teams in Afghanistan; Jackson, here, commanded one of them. His team had joined the Northern Alliance up in the Panjshir region of northern Afghanistan. Remember, the US role was just getting started so the Taliban thoroughly outnumbered Stonewall’s team and his allies. At one point, they came across a Taliban force of, I think, around nine thousand men bivouacked in a relatively narrow valley; Jackson’s twelve man team and the Northern Alliance force amounted to something like 1,500 men. Stonewall, here, then a relatively junior captain, comes up with this incredibly bold and brilliant idea — I mean, it’s Gideon out of the Old Testament all over again: Sometime in the middle of the night, something like two in the morning, he takes three hundred of his men and marches them up and down the canyon trail — with torches fully lit so everyone in the Taliban encampment can see them. The other 1,200 were set up in a blocking position at the other end of the valley. The really cool thing about this is that the three hundred men with torches — each one only marched about a couple hundred feet along this trail. Stonewall, go ahead and tell her about this.”
“You see the whole trick here is about being a force multiplier. I had the men on the trail spaced out about every few hundred feet or so. I had the man at the very top of the canyon light his torches or lanterns. Each man carried two of them; he’d walk to the next one down the trail, who would then hand the lanterns to him; this man would then walk another hundred feet or so and hand the lanterns off to him, and so on. Once each exchange was made each one returned to his place on the trail. As the lit lanterns reached the bottom, these were turned off and exchanged at every hand-off of those coming down the hill so that these would go back up the hill and repeat the process. In this manner, mind you, it’s about 2:00 a.m., the impression of the number of men coming down the trail would never seem to end. The idea was to panic them into thinking that a very large force was assembling and force them to run up the other end of the valley, right into our blocking force.”
“How’d it go?” Dani asked.
“We destroyed the entire Taliban force.”
“There’s a little more to the story, though,” General Pardo added. “You see, this young captain, here, was the last one on the trail, right on the valley floor and some of the Taliban decided to stand and fight.”
“That they did. I had one of my weapons sergeants and my senior comms sergeant with me, along with several of the Northern Alliance guys. We set up a few claymores in the brief time we had and the few of us had every heavy weapon we could carry; we needed to give the impression that we were a much larger force than we really were. If they figured it out, it would have been a disaster. As it was, it got pretty intense and chaotic there for a while.”
“I’m impressed,” Dani said.
“Jim invited me to participate in the after-action debrief,” Pardo added. “Jackson, and his two sergeants each received the Silver Star. It was an incredibly bold and brilliant — not to mention very risky — operation.”
“I was wondering how you knew all of this,” Jackson added. “I know Jim said you were over there but I never knew in what capacity.”
“Well, that’s our little secret. I’ll have to make this brief as I can’t keep Bibi waiting too much longer, but I’m curious as to the general sense in Washington regarding Iran. From over here, it seems that the current administration has lost any appetite for showing any type of leadership or involvement on the world stage. Look at the failures in Benghazi, Syria, Ukraine and the rise of ISIS — you have a bunch of amateurs running the show in Washington. In spite of these failures, your secretary of state hasn’t learned anything — she still wants to negotiate with Iran and, in essence, give them an atomic bomb. Has she lost her mind?!?” Pardo asked, almost demanding an answer.
“General, there are those of us at the Agency and in the military that share your concerns. I can assure you, though, that if I can get something concrete that I can take back to Jim, he’ll be able to take it to Secretary Johnson and Pam McDowell,” referring to the secretary of state and the national security advisor, “to do more than simply rely on economic sanctions and negotiations.”
“You have a lot more confidence in those two than we do.” Tamir said, with more than a little degree of skepticism. “However, I think we can help you out there. Let Arielle, here, know of anything you want. She’s been advised to be at your disposal for absolutely anything you want — and I mean anything.”
Hearing this, Jackson stole a quick glance at Dani. For a brief moment, her eyes seemingly locked on his until she looked away rather awkwardly. General Pardo, seemingly oblivious to this, continued on.
“Also, and I believe you are aware, we’ve been practicing for a raid on Iran for some time now — we are prepared to ‘go it alone’ if need be.”
“I am aware of that, and I know Jim, the Agency and the Pentagon is as well. I just hope it doesn’t come to that.”
“We shall see, Colonel. We shall see. Now, I must apologize, but I can’t keep Bibi waiting any longer.”
“Nothing to apologize for, General. And thanks for your openness; I look forward to working with Arielle and her team.”
After the brief meeting with General Pardo, Dani took Stonewall to their operations center. Benjamin Givon and Yoni Cohen were in a small conference room in the middle of watching a live feed from a drone, currently flying over Iran’s Parchin military facility in Tehran. As Dani and Stonewall entered the room the feed switched over to more of an urban area which Jackson easily recognized as suburban Tehran. It took a few minutes but eventually the drone centered on a somewhat remote area in western Tehran. The area looked somewhat like a park of sorts. The picture on the screen eventually focused in on a residence and then centered in on the car in the driveway.
“Looks like someone’s home,” Yoni volunteered.
“Zoom in on the window in the southwest corner of the house. Can you see if there’s anything in the window? We told him to leave a couple plants in the window when he’s home; we didn’t want to simply rely on a car being in the driveway,” Ben somewhat rhetorically asked Yoni, his executive officer.
“Yeah, it looks like the good doctor’s home this afternoon,” Yoni replied.
“Looks that way. Okay, let’s get out of here. We don’t want to draw any undo suspicion here at this late stage,” Ben added.
“Gentlemen,” Dani interrupted, “our friend from the States has just arrived. Colonel Tom ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, this is Benjamin Givon, our Iranian field team leader, and Yoni Cohen, our executive officer.”
“The general said you’d be coming by later today. Nice to finally meet you. We’ve heard a lot about you, though you didn’t need to go and emulate General Dayan on us,” Ben added with a sly grin, referring to the black eye patch Jackson wore and which had been a trademark of the legendary one-eyed Israeli General Moshe Dayan.
“That was Jim’s idea; he thought it’d be easier for you to pick me up at the airport. I’ve got the glass eye as well and I’m comfortable with either one. As for what you may have heard, I wouldn’t believe everything you hear. I’m sure Jim embellished a few areas,” Jackson said, referencing his boss at the CIA. “I have heard a little about what you all do here, though. I know that over the past few years several Iranian scientists have met with, shall we say, an ‘unfortunate demise.’ We also know you managed to slow the Iranians down with that Stuxnet virus. That was nice work.”
“The brain drain caused by the loss of their scientists didn’t slow them as much as we had hoped. Stuxnet really set them back, though,” Ben admitted. “We followed that up with a Stuxnet variant which slowed them down even more than the original virus, but it didn’t stop them. We knew it wouldn’t; that wasn’t our intent. We simply wanted to buy some time, and in that, we really succeeded.”
“That’s what we heard. So, tell me, just how close are they to getting a bomb?” Jackson asked the small group.
Somewhat nonchalantly, Ben simply said “farther along than you’d believe. Tell you what, where do they have you staying?”
“I guess I really don’t know. I think it’s a place called the Daniel Hotel, or something like that. I’ve never been here so I’m really not sure.”
“Okay, Yoni and I have a couple things left to finish up. Let’s have Arielle take you over there so you can get checked in and all, then the three of us can grab a bite to eat. Sound okay?”
“Okay by me.”
“Arielle, why don’t we plan on meeting you at the Accad right there at the hotel? Give us, oh…, about half an hour to finish up and we’ll see you there.”
“Yeah, that sounds good; it’s new and I haven’t had a chance to get there yet. We’ll give him a proper introduction to Israel. You ready, Colonel?” Dani asked Stonewall.
“All set; my bag’s still in your rig, so I’m ready whenever you are.”
“Okay, we’ll see you guys there,” Dani said over her shoulder as Jackson accompanied her out the door.
“Dani, you can drop the formality; call me Stonewall, everyone else does. These days, no one’s using my rank.”
“Sorry, since Tamir mentioned you’re still active duty I thought I’d respect the rank,” Dani said as she walked to the car.
“No need to worry about that. Oh, and what’s with the ‘proper introduction’ idea? Anything I should know about?”
“They’ve got you at the Daniel?” Dani asked, ignoring Jackson’s question as he got into the car.
“Yeah, that’s the one; I haven’t even had a chance to look at it online.”
“Well, I don’t see a ring on that finger. Does that mean there’s no ‘Mrs. Jackson’ or someone else in your life?” Dani had that out there before she realized it probably sounded better in her head than spoken. “Ah… I mean, the Daniel is one of the nicest hotels in Israel, let alone Tel Aviv. If you wanted to spoil someone, this is the place,” Dani continued, noticeably blushing.
“Ah, no, there’s no one else,” Jackson replied. “But back to this ‘proper introduction.’”
“Oh yeah; it’s just the usual initiation we do for all new members of the Unit.”
“Excuse me?” Jackson replied, whipping his head around to look at Dani, caught more than a little off guard on a couple different levels. As he did so, he noticed that, as she had been driving with her left arm, the left sleeve of her blouse had slipped up towards her shoulder, revealing a long scar across her arm just above the elbow.
“Relax, it’s nothing to worry about, at least not too much. I mean, I’ve heard of the initiation some of your SEALs go through. We like to have fun, too, but that’s just crazy; we won’t embarrass you too much,” Dani said, with a bit of a mischievous grin. “I mean, it’s not like you have to drive somewhere tonight, right?”
* * *
Jackson didn’t realize that the elevator opened right at the Accad restaurant. He looked around to find Dani and finally noticed her back in a corner booth. As he walked up to the booth, he realized that both Ben and Yoni had already arrived. The “initiation” to which Dani had alluded simply revolved around each of them getting to know Stonewall, and he getting to know them — in essence, more of a job interview. Dani wanted to get to know this Special Forces, turned CIA, officer who had never been to Israel before but had come highly recommended for what she knew to be a very important mission for both of their countries. Ben and Yoni wanted to size up this intelligence officer to get an idea if he might be up for this mission. So, over a very casual dinner, their “interview” began.
“So, ‘Stonewall’, just where did that moniker come from?” Dani began, with somewhat of an edge.
Ignoring the tenor of Dani’s question, Jackson started, “It was back in “05 or “06 in northern Iraq. I commanded an A team that parachuted into northern Iraq. At one point, an entire Iraqi tank company confronted our team — mind you, the heaviest thing we had was a Humvee with a.50 caliber machine gun mounted on it — against several tanks and armored personnel carriers. We were outnumbered by about five to one. We had several of the new Javelin anti-tank missiles as well and we were facing some extreme ranges. We used them, and completely destroyed the tank company. With my name: Thomas Jackson, and the situation we faced, the colonel who relieved us tagged me with the moniker “Stonewall’, and it seemed to fit, reminiscent of the Civil War general.”
“Ah, I hadn’t thought of him; I can see that, now that you mention it. Tamir told me you’ve had quite the career with the Special Forces,” Dani replied. Her use of the Mossad director’s first name — again — did not escape Jackson; actually, somewhat surprised him as her tone implied more than a customary familiarity with her very powerful boss.
“As for the rest of my career with the Special Forces, I’m still active duty, just temporarily with the Agency. I can’t tell you much more than what you probably already know: I’ve served with the Fifth Group for the last sixteen years now and along the way hit most of the countries in the region. I had a few tours in Afghanistan, a couple in Iraq, and spent some time at KASOTC,” referring to the King Abdullah Special Operations Training Center in Amman, Jordan. “Serving as a CIF team commander with the Fifth Group has probably been the highlight of my career. It’s been a great ride and I wouldn’t change anything. I was fortunate enough to find the time to get a doctorate in Persian studies a couple years ago.”
“CIF team?” Dani asked. “Aren’t those relatively new?”
“The Commander’s In-extremis Force team has been around since the 90’s but we’ve honed it into a very capable unit. The idea is that whenever a situation blows up in a group’s region, there’s a force immediately available for the group commander, or the president, should something that sensitive develop. Every group has a team and they’re permanently deployed to their region — that’s how I got to KASOTC. Every asset a team commander could possibly need deploys with them, from ground transportation to air assets, be it Apache Longbows, C-130’s or even half a dozen A-10’s. The team can literally be wheels up to anywhere in its region — or its proximity — within half an hour. We’ve learned a lot from you guys, and from our own successes — and failures.”
“We’ve both had our share of each, I’m afraid,” Ben admitted.
Dani and her teammates had Jackson at a little bit of a disadvantage as they knew some of Jackson’s history, given General Pardo’s relationship with Jim Carmichael. She knew he had three Silver Stars, one of which could have — and probably should have — been a Distinguished Service Cross, but due to Army politics, this had been downgraded to a Silver Star. She wanted to hear how Jackson described it, if he did at all. She appreciated his modesty in leaving this out.
Jackson hadn’t had the opportunity to learn much of anything about the Israeli team with whom he’d be working. Ben and Yoni looked as though they could have been part of his team with the Special Forces. They were both very well built, not overly large men as, at six two, Jackson was taller than both of them. Rather, they had a lean, rugged and confident air about them as having practiced their craft in the field rather than in the class room. Dani on the other hand, intrigued him. She fit right in with Ben and Yoni but women didn’t serve in a Special Forces unit, at least not in his army. He knew women served alongside men in most Israeli army units but this wasn’t the typical unit. She certainly had the athletic build and he had noticed that she moved with all the grace of a lioness on the prowl. Clearly, Dani looked as though she could certainly take care of herself.
“How about you guys; Jim sent me over here with very little advance notice.”