A Spy in Exile: Chapter 40

The cadets were kept busy over the following two days with intensive debriefings concerning their activities in Bremen. They had the chance now to analyze the events quietly and without any pressure, and to actually learn something finally. Ya’ara and Aslan reviewed the events with the cadets in a systematic and methodical fashion. They spoke to them in concrete terms and added background and context to moves that were carried out quickly and in such a manner that they had appeared to the cadets to be instinctive. They discussed planning, situation assessment, intuition. And with the aid of hindsight, they analyzed the various actions they had taken and tried to assess the risks involved in them and to identify the steps that had led to breakthroughs.

“We did a very good job,” Ya’ara told them. “You did. We thwarted a very sophisticated and extremely cruel plot. We saved lives. At least three families were not destroyed because of your solid field work, your courage, and your devotion. And we managed to prevent an earthquake in the German banking system. And to help a good friend.” She looked around, looking straight into their eyes, each and every one of them. “True, we had luck. True again, we were not able to do anything about the attacks in Britain and in Italy. But this war is a long one. We are not alone in it, although it seems that we have to lead and be in the front lines. All the time. And with perseverance and valor and faith we will win.” She paused, slightly embarrassed. She resorted to talking business.

“Experience, legwork, and luck,” Ya’ara concluded, but it was clear to everyone that this was just a very partial summation. What about creativity? And the ability to think on one’s feet? And courage? But they decided to move on. Because Ya’ara had returned from Israel with new missions. None of those present knew who had given her the assignments personally, not even Aslan.

 

  • • •

 

She and Aslan had talked about what was expected of them the night before.

“Look,” she said to him, “the world is changing at a frightening pace right before our eyes. It’s becoming chaotic and violent and incomprehensible, and we need to operate within this scope, to restore the balance a little. Islam is spiraling out of control, going back to some wild and primeval point in time. Think about the dusty expanses of the Middle East. About the endless convoys of fighters. Cruel, thin men with long beards, carrying assault rifles and swords. The pickup trucks racing across the wide-open plains, with machine guns fixed to their cargo bays. The insane freedom to kill and destroy. To behead.

“Something about this dark savagery, which appears to be more like a video game than the Quran, is attracting thousands of European Muslims, young men—and women, too—who were born and educated in Europe, who grew up in supposedly free societies, and who hate with all their might, with every ounce of their being, the societies and cultures in which they are living. And after they’ve affiliated themselves with this darkness, after they’ve experienced combat, after they’ve learned to spill blood, after they’ve fallen in love with or become addicted to the blood, they return home, to their European countries, to their frightening and disadvantaged neighborhoods, to their slim chances of fitting in. And they start killing. Again and again and again. And it won’t come to an end just like that. It’s not going to die out on its own.”

“Do you want to take on millions of Muslims in Europe?”

“I want to fight because that’s who I am. That, first and foremost. And yes, I believe we have a chance.”

“Look, Ya’ara, I’m not an intellectual like you, and I, too, have sworn to fight my enemies, but even I know that the picture you’re painting doesn’t tell the full story. Those extremists call themselves Muslims, but Islam is not a murderous religion. What do you think—that you and I are going to rid the world of an entire religion? We’re going to crush Islam with a bunch of cadets?” He added a smile at the end of his words, but he was clearly somewhat concerned about Ya’ara’s zeal. He knew how quickly her thoughts could be translated into actions in the field.

“You’re right,” she said. “You’re right. Let me explain. And of course we aren’t going to triumph on our own. You know what? The ultimate winners, to be honest, will be the Muslims themselves. Who’ll come to their senses and won’t allow themselves to be led by a gang of murderous lunatics. Islam, after all, embodies a great deal of beauty, complexity, and wisdom. And there are good and wealthy and intellectually enriching places in the history of Islam that one can return to as sources of inspiration. But that could take a long time. Years, generations perhaps. And the Europeans, too, have to realize at some point that if they maintain their passive and hesitant approach, the barbarity will overpower them. And you’ll slowly see their determination and fighting spirit growing ever stronger.”

Aslan remained silent. He hated that word, barbarity, but waited for more to come from Ya’ara. He had already said way more than usual just moments before.

Ya’ara continued. “We can be the trigger. We’ll show the way. We’ll be the snake that slithers unseen through the grass, emerges, strikes, and vanishes again. Until the next time. And the time after that. That’s how I envision the years to come.” Ya’ara stopped. Observing herself, as always, from the outside, trying to understand the meaning of her own enthusiasm, as if she were some kind of a brainwashed military officer or zealous youth movement counselor. But she was not like that, after all, she was cool and calculating. Though she really did believe what she had said.

“That’s a frightening image, that snake of yours,” Aslan said.

She couldn’t contain herself, and her enthusiasm bubbled over again. “But it’s an accurate one, too. Because that’s exactly what I want to do. I want to frighten. To intimidate. To add another variable to the equation. To say: Look, here’s something covert, deadly, that isn’t going to show any tolerance. If you murder, if you incite and encourage murder, if nothing but pure hatred flows in your blood, you will pay with your life.”

“And we’re going to do all this with six cadets?”

She took a deep breath, regaining her composure and adopting a businesslike approach once again. “To begin with,” she said. “And there’ll be others to come. And I have an idea about how to increase our force significantly, in a relatively short period of time. But I want us to remain focused for now.

“And you know, Aslan,” Ya’ara continued after stemming her flow of words, her flow of thoughts, for a moment, “we aren’t like them, after all. We aren’t about to embark on a massacre. If we operate properly, we’ll get to select those who truly deserve to die, we’ll strike and disappear without a trace, and our reputation will precede us. Isolated incidents, in succession, without any obvious modus operandi, will create waves, a reverberation, a long and blood-curdling whisper.”

The similarity between Ya’ara’s suggested course of action and the incident they had recently thwarted, the attack planned by the new Baader-Meinhof group, didn’t escape Aslan, but he held his tongue.

“We’ll be doing what we do for a good cause, a just cause,” Ya’ara said, appearing to read his mind. “There’s no reason to question the method. And we’ll be focused. We’ll strike only at those who deserve it. We won’t be selecting random targets.”

“So how do you want us to move forward?” Aslan asked. “What are we going to do tomorrow, with the cadets?”

“Osama Hamdan.”

“Who?”

“Osama Hamdan and Anjam Badawi.” Ya’ara continued without hesitating. “Hamdan is the man who murdered Yael Ziv at the central synagogue in Brussels. He’s currently in custody in Belgium. Badawi is a Muslim preacher in London, as radical as they come. We’ll be targeting both of them. We’ll split into two groups. The mission will include intelligence gathering and the formulation of an operational plan for their assassination. After gathering the intelligence for the operation, if we manage to put together a real plan, we’ll execute it, too. Tomorrow we’ll divide the cadets into two teams. You’ll accompany the one team to En-

gland. I’ll take the second team to Belgium. We’ll give ourselves a month. And see where we’re at. I want us to eventually be in a position, with our existing force, to be able to put together a series of six to eight operations a year. But we’ll get there only after we complete the cadets’ training and are able to say that we’re up and running from an operational perspective. We’ll be constructing the force, meanwhile, in conjunction with actual field experience and learning.”

“Hamdan is in jail already. Why do you want to kill him?”

“First, because he deserves it.” An image from many years ago popped into her thoughts. Her own mother with her head bent over Yael, whispering something to her. “And Yael deserves to be avenged. And second, getting to someone who’s in prison, with half the Belgian police force guarding him, is a unique professional challenge. And I want all those pieces of filth to know that if they hurt us, they won’t die of old age. Plain and simple—they’ll be liquidated. Yes, the Europeans are indeed promoting various regulations and laws. And there’s a Security Council resolution calling for action against what the council defines as foreign terrorist fighters. That’s a good thing. It’s important. And if they act decisively and systematically, they can make significant inroads. But at the same time, we need to be the rogue element, the ruthless element, which will add the required resoluteness to this war. This insane phenomenon can’t be defeated by regular means only. We’ll be the ever-present black shadow from which the lightning strikes.”

“Do we have a mandate for all of this?” he asked.

Ya’ara looked at him with her bright eyes, responding in the affirmative with just a nod of her head.

“How can a girl like you be so fanatical?” Aslan asked with obvious affection, watered down with a certain degree of reservation.

“Don’t know. That’s just me.”

“You know I love you just the way you are,” he said, as if trying to convince himself. “And the preacher?”

“He is worse than a hundred murderers. He drives hundreds of young Muslims to make pilgrimages to the sites of murders and jihadi attacks. He’s the most cold-blooded of them. He says the most terrible things in such a soft and gentle and sanctimonious tone of voice. He’s asking for a bullet between the eyes, and we’re going to grant his request. He sends out others to murder and be killed. We’re going to give him the honor of being a shaheed himself.”

 

  • • •

 

The teams had already been determined—Aslan would work with Sayid, Helena with Ann, Ya’ara with Batsheva, Nufar with Assaf.

“We have nothing to go on aside from the names. We’re starting from scratch. Think of ways to obtain information. The internet, obviously. We’ll start from there, but find other ways, too.”

“What about weapons?” Assaf asked. “We’re eventually going to need arms. A pistol, hand grenades, something.”

“Correct. But it’s early days now and it depends a lot on the intelligence we secure. We’ll have to equip ourselves with the means that best suit the operational plan we put together.”

“But we may have to select an operational plan that suits the weapons at our disposal. If all we have in the end are knives that can be purchased at a store that caters to chefs, we’d need a very different plan than one for a situation in which we had, let’s say, a sniper rifle,” Assaf said.

“An important point, Assaf,” Ya’ara said, her mind offering her an image of Assaf attacking terrorists with a large kitchen knife. She was impressed by his practicality, which had caught her attention already during the initial selection stage. “We’ll work on the weapons question at the same time. Ultimately, we need to ensure that all our avenues of activity converge at a single point in time. That’s part of the entire issue. To know how to plan and make progress on several different tracks, even when things are very uncertain. That’s the world in which we’re learning to operate. Sometimes we fall flat on our faces, and often, you’ll be surprised to hear, it works. Provided that uncertainty doesn’t scare you too much. We’re scheduled to meet again in a month’s time. Take care of yourselves,” she said to the small team that was already gathered around Aslan. “And we’ll take care of ourselves. Remember, no foolish suicide missions. We don’t need martyrs, only serious individuals who want to stay in the business for many years to come.”

Sayid remained silent while Ya’ara was talking. Now might have been the first time he fully understood that this was going to be his life over a long period of time. And the implications were staring him in the face. How am I ever going to meet someone? he thought with a sudden sense of anxiety. How will I ever have a family? A home? He pictured himself twenty or twenty-five years down the line. His hair graying, his face drawn, sitting in a dingy bar in Zurich or Delhi or Johannesburg, with nowhere to go. Where would his home be then?

“Sayid, are you with us?” Ya’ara asked.

“Yes, of course, I was just daydreaming for a moment.”

“Good dreams, I hope.”

“Not quite. A nightmare you couldn’t even imagine,” he responded with his pleasant smile.

“We’re out of here, Sayid,” Aslan said to him. “Our work begins.”

Ya’ara assembled her team around her. “You’ll be getting to work, too, Batsheva, Nufar, and Assaf. I want you to compile and organize all the information you can find on Hamdan on the internet by this evening. I want to see his name in the obituaries column within a month.” Yael Ziv’s pale face, her large dark eyes, her elusive smile, the foreign and gentle sound of her voice. She imagined them all. She could feel the sharp edge of her frustration and rage cutting into her, leaving her with a familiar sense of restlessness and disquiet, a powerful urge to act. There’s a price to pay for the horrors you cause, she whispered to herself, unsure who she was talking to.

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