A Spy in Exile: Chapter 15


They made their way to Berlin in a variety of ways. Two on an Air Berlin flight direct to Tegel Airport. One on a flight to Frankfurt, and from there by train. And another one along the same route the following morning. Two traveled by train from Prague. One arrived via Amsterdam. And one via Brussels. Eight Israelis out of thousands who entered Europe that same day.

Ya’ara and Aslan had come to a decision beforehand concerning the main premise of their cover stories. It was the exact opposite of what they had learned and put into practice in the past. They, and the small unit they were setting up, would operate under the cover of genuine identities. It had been done before, but this time it was their only alternative: With the means at their disposal, and up against a world of increasingly sophisticated security measures, they wouldn’t be able to construct watertight fictional identities. Their respective cover stories would be their real stories. They’d have real biographies, they’d have real parents and brothers and friends, their pictures would appear in school yearbooks, on university student rolls, they’d have Facebook accounts and they’d create a presence on Google. But from now on, they’d have to live perforated lives, real lives with self-made holes into which they’d be able to disappear. There’d be no rigid adherence to a fixed daily agenda, a tight framework. Their occupations would allow them to travel far and wide, to be mobile. And they would try in the midst of it all to live as far under the radar as possible. To attract as little attention as possible. To leave behind as few records as possible, within the boundaries of reason. The kind of life that Aslan and Ya’ara had been living all those years anyway. Ya’ara Stein’s Facebook account was a smokescreen, just for show. Her presence on the web was minimal, boring even. When they came into contact with their objects, of course, the cadets would be able to be whoever they chose to be. After all, they weren’t going to tell an Al Qaeda member or Iranian nuclear scientist that they were Israeli. But when coming into contact with official authorities, wherever they were asked to present state-issued documents, at border crossings, land registry offices, and bank safety deposit vaults, they would be who they truly were. They’d simply have to offer feasible explanations if instructed to do so. And never having to do so would be best, to let their actions and appearance and the context in which they’d chosen to operate be self-explanatory, without the need for words. The best cover story is the one that doesn’t have to be told, Ya’ara said during the briefing to her cadets, when she instructed them to compile their background stories in Berlin.

In truth, the first few months in Berlin aren’t very complicated at all. It was easy to blend in among the thousands of other young Israelis who had made the city their home. They, too, each for their own reasons, each in their own way, wanted to try and to taste, and all of them almost always went down the same road. German language studies, finding an apartment, checking out employment options. This one as a lawyer, that one as an investment consultant, another as an artist and the one who’s planning to write the Israeli Lonely Planet on Berlin. The challenge would come when they’d have to cement their covers for an extended stay, or to support frequent visits from Israel. Not that they’d ask many questions. But if they did ask, they’d better have a good response.

Ya’ara had an idea, a glimmer of an idea, regarding how she could further solidify her team’s presence in Europe, but there were still many loose ends to tie up. And most important, she needed to enlist the support of someone who had helped her before. She had learned over the years that the world was still full of people who loved Israel. People who had a sympathetic attitude—adoration and admiration sometimes—toward the State of Israel and the youths who served the country as clandestine fighters. Religion quite often was the basis for their support. Sometimes it stemmed from feelings of guilt for the wrongdoings of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations during World War II. In other instances, their support was motivated by an appreciation of strength, strength that those quiet and impressive Israelis epitomized. But even more frequently, it was rooted in a profound recognition of the justness of the Israeli cause, despite the occupation, despite the heavy-handedness, despite all the screw-ups along the way. Because at the heart of the matter, Israel’s story, in their eyes, was a just one. For the most part, it was a combination of some or all of the motivating factors. And when this fundamental support sparked the emergence and development of a close personal bond with the Israeli handler, to a sense of intimacy and adventure, and feelings of friendship and loyalty, there wasn’t a thing they weren’t willing to do. Because what does this life offer us, ultimately, if not a handful of individuals to whom we’re tied by delicate and rare threads of love and true friendship? That was Ya’ara’s theory at least, even though those feelings were often foreign to her. Her friendships were professional, for the most part. Every deviation was ultimately rerouted back to her chosen track. And Ya’ara knew that while training the cadets and turning them into intelligence combatants, they would also have to work together to develop this critical network of covert partners, who could play their part, each in his or her own way, in the campaign they would be leading.

The infrastructure was already in place. A modest film production office, a branch of the production company she opened to serve their purpose in Israel, too. In the initial stage, the office would deal with script development, but later would go on to produce films by Israeli artists based in Berlin, and Germany in general. The Israel-Germany story after all was a fertile ground for ideas, the shadow of the past featured so powerfully in the present. Fragments of stories were scattered throughout the large expanse of the country, highly talented individuals craved expression, the second and third generations were standing in line, the conflicting identities, the attraction and the shame, the tranquil ground was still trembling under their feet. The office would serve as a location for meetings and preparations, and it would function as their base until they moved on, elsewhere, with a different cover story.


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