The intercity train raced northward at a speed of two hundred kilometers an hour. Ya’ara was very quiet and Michael sat next to her, in silence, too, sipping the tepid coffee he had purchased from the refreshments cart pushed by a young girl who, despite her tender years, appeared drained, tired of life. Ya’ara was glad he had joined her; she didn’t want to be alone and preferred knowing where he was rather than having him follow her.
She had plans to meet up in Liverpool with Ann and Helena, and she still hadn’t figured out what she was going to tell Michael. But she knew she’d manage. Michael wasn’t a real threat. Yes, she had been taken aback when he told her that Anjam Badawi was an MI5 asset, but it didn’t cause her to doubt herself. She had no way of knowing about Badawi when they were formulating their plan to kill him. She asked herself if she would have changed her decision had she known he was a British source, and didn’t know what to say. She acknowledged the damage done inadvertently to British intelligence as a result of his assassination, and admitted that had she known in advance, she probably would have let him slip and moved on to the next piece of filth on the list. But what happened wasn’t her idea. She was given a free hand in all matters relating to the planning and execution of the operations, but the list was passed on to her by the prime minister, in the convoluted manner they had arranged ahead of time.
I wonder, she thought, how the prime minister selects the targets he’s given me. He must receive material from Military Intelligence and the Mossad, by way of his military secretary. Osama Hamdan wasn’t on the list of names she had received. He was at the top of her private list. A savage beast who had killed her mother’s good friend without a second thought, without a moment’s hesitation. She had decided that as the commander of a secret team of cadets, she deserved that bonus.
The relationship between her mother and Yael had been one of the basic facts of life to Ya’ara. The two women came from very different worlds—her mother was a new immigrant from Siberia who lived in the suburbs of Haifa, and Yael Ziv was a third-generation Israeli, from a plush home on the summit of Mount Carmel. Their mutual love for literature brought them together. Ya’ara didn’t know how they had met, and when she did ask, her mother evaded the question. But the initial contact was made, and Yael, who used to host a literary club gathering at her home, invited Ya’ara’s mother to join them, to speak about the Russian books she loved so much, to read extracts from them, if only for them to hear the melodic beauty of the Russian language rolling off her tongue, and to read and get to know the books of the Israeli authors whom the club members would discuss in all earnestness, with excitement but also fiery criticism.
Her mother used to invite her to tag along, and Ya’ara did, but only occasionally, both drawn to and repelled by the well-to-do and educated world she was exposed to, a world that projected self-confidence and quiet arrogance. The relationship between the two women blossomed into a profound and quiet friendship. They shared the kind of closeness that exists between sisters. And when her mother fell ill, Yael more than anyone else was there for her, holding her hand after a long day of treatments, bringing over a pot of meat soup on Saturday mornings, faithfully on the other end of the line for a long and quiet phone call. But Hamdan’s assassination wasn’t only personal revenge.
As Ya’ara understood things, his killing conformed with the prime minister’s perception that rampant Islamic terror could only be defeated by means of a hard-fought and bloody war, from close quarters, with continuing and relentless violence, without balking, in order to surprise, to catch the enemy unawares, to rattle his confidence and sense of security, and to sow fear in his heart. And carrying out a hit on a murderer inside a prisoner-transport vehicle was exactly the kind of move a strategy like that called for.
That was why she wasn’t moved by Michael’s shock. There’ll be many more such killings to come, she promised him silently. And the organization that sent you should be aware of that, too. She knew she couldn’t triumph alone. Combating such madness required a global campaign. A campaign in which the Mossad would also have a role to play. And even that wouldn’t be enough. Military forces would have to emerge victorious in the battles that take place on the ground, in the vast deserts now controlled by the fighters of the Islamic caliphate. But she and her people could be the catalyst for the campaign, the wild and dangerous variable that shows the way, like a tornado that wreaks havoc along its path.
She thought about the young girl who had been killed in the Badawi operation. She regretted her death but refused to wallow in sadness. She wasn’t Aslan. Sometimes even little girls have to die for causes greater than themselves. After all, it was impossible to bring her back to life, and as far as she was concerned, forgoing Badawi’s assassination would have been too high a price to pay for the purpose of saving her.
Where was her God when it was time to protect the life of a young girl? she thought defiantly. She felt like a drawn sword in a continuing campaign. She herself was the spark. And her serene outward appearance served her, as always, as a shield. Who would imagine that the light-eyed, fair-haired woman with the map of Europe spread out in front of her was planning her next operations? No, no one knew what she had in mind. Certainly not Michael, whose suspicions had already drifted off to sleep, with the sight of a bare foot leaving him unable to think straight. She rested her head on Michael’s shoulder and allowed her eyes to close. The train continued northward, the landscape flashing by on both sides in a blur.