Authors: Avichai Schmidt
AVICHAI (AVI) SCHMIDT
Translated by Ilan Chaim
Copyright © 2015 by Avichai Schmidt
All right reserved
This book is a work of fiction and all its characters and events are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead, or to real events, is purely coincidental. Likewise any depiction of Israeli governmental bodies or agencies is solely the product of the author's imagination.
Table of Contents
In memory of my beloved parents,
Malka and Max Schmidt
The author would like to express his thanks to Yehiam Padan and Yael Seidman for contributing their thoughts and talents in the writing of this work.
The heavy haze that had cloaked the city at first light gradually began to lift. As if in a developing photograph, the skyline slowly emerged to reveal the buildings of Tel Aviv. In the distance a car’s engine could be heard coughing into life, joined by the metallic screech of heavy doors being dragged ajar at some early opening business.
A sharp, almost painfully cold gust of wind penetrated his lungs as he left the warmth of the car. The unexpected cold made him huddle into himself. He glanced at his watch and saw it was 7:15; another 45 minutes to wait. He walked over to a café on the corner and was greeted by pleasant warmth on his face as he pushed open the heavy glass door.
A waiter with coiffed hair meticulously combed to the side, a fresh white towel draped casually over his left arm, came over to him.
“Coffee with cream,” the man said curtly, seating himself by the large corner window facing the street. The waiter, whose every step seemed to reflect his ownership of the premises, retreated behind the counter. A few moments later he returned, expressionlessly bearing a tray with a cup of fragrant coffee. From the next table he took a simple metal container holding packets of sugar and artificial sweeteners, and placed them before the man.
“Anything else, sir?”
“No, thanks.” The feeling of warmth that had spread through his limbs with a relaxing pleasantness a few moments ago had now become unbearably oppressive. He pulled open the zipper of his windbreaker and patted the inside pocket. Taking a sip of his coffee with one hand, he reached with the other into the pocket and withdrew a slip of paper, spreading it open on the table. He studied it carefully, with puzzlement.
The name and address of the company at whose offices he had the appointment were unfamiliar to him. As much as he had tried, he could not figure out a logical explanation of the name of the commercial firm known as AGT, Ltd. Not even the head of marketing at his own company knew more than he; although he thought a firm with that name traded in building materials.
In any event, that was a secondary question. The truly important fact was that the company – whatever its business was – was seriously considering replacing all the old elevators in its building with the fast, silent ones he sold.
Somewhere between the espresso machine and the cash register an old black telephone rang shrilly, breaking his train of thought. He gazed over at a dusty wall clock and noticed its hand indicated 10 minutes to eight.
As one who subscribed to the first rule of business – namely that the customer must not be kept waiting – he got up, taking a five-shekel coin from his pocket and placing it beside the ash tray. He stepped quickly past the empty tables towards the door.
“Mr. Greenberg?” He jerked his head at the sound of his name. He wondered how the waiter knew his name, and what he wanted. For a split second, he asked himself if he had met the man previously, on another occasion, but he could not recall one. The man stood there, an apathetic look on his face, one hand holding the telephone receiver and the other covering the mouthpiece. He beckoned with a nod of his head for him to come over.
“Yes, what is it?” Greenberg demanded as he walked over to the counter.
“Phone call for you,” said the waiter, holding the receiver out over a tray piled with glasses.
“For me?!” Greenberg exclaimed. Certain that it was some kind of misunderstanding, he took the instrument. For an instant he wondered whether it was possible for someone he knew to locate him here, in this café; then just as quickly rejected the idea.
But the voice on the phone had asked for him by name; there was no mistake.
“Who is this? Who’s speaking?”
The voice ignored the question. “I’m waiting for you in the white car by the delicatessen across the street,” it said, cutting off the call with no opportunity for clarification or argument.
The call left him amazed and puzzled. His mind raced trying to analyze the strange event logically; but in vain. In a daze he reached across the counter and returned the receiver, mumbling his thanks to the waiter. The latter, busy clearing dishes from one of the tables, did not notice.
Greenberg resumed his progress towards the door, then stopped and thought. A bit self-consciously, he retraced his steps and went over to the window, spread apart two slats of the venetian blind with a finger and peered out suspiciously.
About 50 meters up the street, on the opposite side, he saw the car. A man was sitting at the wheel. Almost instinctively, without knowing why, he took out his pack of cigarettes and a pen and wrote down the car’s license number. Only then did he go out.
Glancing left and right, he crossed the street diagonally through the lanes of now mounting traffic. The driver of the big American car waiting for him watched his progress from behind the mirrored lenses of aviator sunglasses. Greenberg approached the car, bending over to carefully look inside. A cellular telephone resting on its bracket between the front seats explained the source of the phone call to the cafe. A second device, a radio transmitter, was mounted under the glove compartment.
The driver lowered the electric window. “Your cell phone was off so I called the café. We’re AGT, Ltd.,” he said, reaching across and pushing open the passenger door. Without another word, he moved back in his seat, waiting.
The private telephone in the home of Israel’s prime minister rang for a second time. Moshe Lapid lifted his eyes from the file he was reading and impatiently gestured with his right hand. One of his two permanently assigned bodyguards rose from his chair on the other side of the large study. Silently resting his weapon on the telephone table, he lifted the receiver. He spoke briefly with the prime minister’s personal secretary, then strode quickly across the room and waited motionlessly behind the premier’s shoulder. Only after he looked up from his text did the guard lean forward and say quietly, “The foreign minister is on the line, sir.”
The elderly leader shuddered slightly and with a gentle nod of thanks to the guard lifted the receiver from the extension on his desk.
The voice on the other end, sounding a bit hoarse and more than a little disappointed, said: “The resolution passed. It’s received final approval.”
“Come here at once,” was the premier’s curt reply.
“Yes, sir,” said the foreign minister. The call ended.
The prime minister collapsed back into his chair. The unceasing tension of recent months had left its mark on him. A terrible fatigue gripped him, and if not for the presence of his guards, he would gladly have put his head down for a quick nap. His health had deteriorated over the past six months, and had become a constant focus of media attention. He now needed all his strength just in order to think. He suddenly lunged forward in his chair and punched a button on his desk console. “Get me Michael!” he said forcefully.
About half an hour later, near midnight, two large American cars from the cabinet fleet drew up before the corner on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street. Four tall security men, wearing identical navy blazers and beige slacks, jumped form the cars. Each carried an attaché case containing a submachine gun with a folding stock, and the cut of their jackets did not conceal the bulges over their right hips where their service automatics rested.
Using powerful flashlights, two of the guards quickly combed the surrounding area, while their two partners waited with one hand poised on the open doors of the cars, whose motors were still running. They were kept running, even after the all-clear was given. The two ministers – foreign and defense – were escorted from the cars and up the stone steps at the entrance to the house. Two of the guards closed the gate after themselves, as their two partners remained standing outside on the street. About 10 seconds later they disappeared into the cars, whose searchlights were now turned off and engines stilled, restoring the neighborhood to its previous quiet.
Inside the house, one of the armed guards held open the door to the prime minister’s study, as the house matron wheeled in a cart laden with sandwiches and thermoses of coffee. The guards waited for the woman to finish arranging the food on a small table beside the while marble fireplace, then followed her out of the room. The prime minister and his two most senior ministers were alone.
Defense Minister Michael Almog, a beer-bellied man with the energy of someone much younger, volunteered to pour the steaming, aromatic brew into china cups without being asked. The old man with the sagging, gray, and sickly face sitting on the other side of the massive mahogany desk drew one of the cups towards him and dropped in a pill of artificial sweetener.
“What exactly happened?” the prime minister began, without preamble, looking at Foreign Minister Meir Gilat.
“As I already told you on the phone,” the diplomat paused to clear his throat, “the vote in the American Congress ended about an hour ago. The resolution passed; with a tiny majority, but it passed.”
A heavy silence fell over the room. The news that the American Congress had resolved to support the creation of a Palestinian state in the territories it said Israel should relinquish to the Radical Front for the Liberation of Palestine, headed by George Abu-Hatra – even though expected, was a shock.
The foreign minister sighed deeply, breaking the silence. “To my regret, we could not prevent it.”
“Why?” demanded the prime minister of his chief rival in the party.
The minister, known for weighing his words before speaking, thought for a moment and seemed to hesitate: “In this particular instance, we did not even try. We were precluded from trying.”
After considering this for a moment, the prime minister nodded in agreement. He well understood that an attempt to carry out an information campaign aimed at persuading members of Congress to vote one way or another would have been interpreted as an effort to frustrate any chance for peace in advance. It would have been a bad move.
“What the hell’s going on here?!” the prime minister suddenly shouted, the pent-up fury of his outburst seeming to express the country’s frustration at recent events. Despite the heavy pressure put on the administration via the American Jewish lobby, it appeared that Israel had more than enough cause for concern: the cutting of economic aid almost to the minimum, the cessation of trade under the threat of an appeal to the Security Council for an international economic embargo, the withholding of arms already paid for, the decision to supply advanced pilotless aircraft to Saudi Arabia, and the signing of the arms contracts with Jordan and the Saudis – the seemingly endless list was an abundantly clear indication that the good old days were history.
“I don’t understand what has caused the American president to shamelessly abandon the
“And his blatant interference in our internal affairs doesn’t bother you? asked the foreign minister. “The way he defames our part - -“
“What are you talking about?! the defense minister cut him off. “That’s what bothers you? This is the man who has explicitly declared that we must return the Golan Heights, dismantle the settlements, let half a million or more Palestinians move back to Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa, and Acre and even ‘return’ Jerusalem!”
“Even ‘return’ Jerusalem,” signed the prime minster, shaking his head.
For some time it had been understood in Israel and abroad that a sharp turning point had occurred in the U.S.-Israel relations; but no one understood why. There were those who claimed that President Stewart Douglas thought he could permit himself this, now that his country was the only superpower left in the world. The Soviet Union had collapsed and desperately needed U.S. aid. And there were also those who said that, moreover, the president no longer feared the Jewish lobby; not just because the Moslems had accumulated appreciable power, but also because some of Israel’s actions had not been well received by American Jews. Nevertheless, the question remained not only how had it happened that the president was acting against Israel, but why? The answer was a difficult one and not unequivocal.
“It appears that Douglas is determined to impose a new order in the world,” suggested the foreign minister, rubbing his forehead. “It seems that winning this vote in Congress—just as winning the previous ones—was especially important to him. These are the first foreign policy decisions he has made. Losing a vote would have pulled the rug from under him and made it difficult for him to function in the future.”
“Let’s get to the point,” said Michael Almog, shifting in his chair. “After all, we’ve been here before. What is the practical implication of this latest congressional resolution?
“Very simple: The United States will force us to meet with Abu-Hatra, to sit at the negotiating table with him and sign this horrendous agreement, despite everything we have said on the matter.”
“And what if we refuse?” asked the defense minister significantly.
The foreign minister shot a murderous glance at his colleague. “I would not even consider thinking about it. In our present state of relations with the administration, the damage it would surely cause us would be inestimable.”
A painful silence enveloped the room, as each of the three considered his own thoughts. Two months before, when the proposal for “reaching a Declaration of Principles on Palestinian autonomy with the participation of the leader of the Radical Front for the Liberation of Palestine” was first raised, no one had taken it seriously. The American assistant secretary of state, who had come up with the idea, almost paid for it with his career. After all, each Israeli government had declared again and again that it would “never agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel.”
Nevertheless, the deterioration in U.S.-Israeli relations, which was especially painful on the economic plane, was accompanied by the open support of the American secretary of state for his assistant; and unlike in the past, a wave of fierce and bitter reactions from Israel could not put an end to the unwanted initiative. Just the opposite: The American president himself had bluntly declared that he, too, supports “the innovative and welcome ideas.” Leaks, perhaps from above, said the administration had agreed with the Abu-Hatra organization to demand that the Israeli Arabs of the Galilee be permitted to decide whether to include that region in negotiations for a future settlement.
This was a red line which no one had thought the U.S. would cross. The world was amazed. For weeks the subject remained in the headlines. Reactions were mixed, but the general tendency of most nations was to accept the Americans’ view—after all, wasn’t the U.S. Israel’s “friend and ally?”—and not least because, simply put, they were fed up with the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Jewish world had suffered a deep shock, and there were those who saw this as a sign of the collapse of the special relationship that had lasted dozens of years between Israel and the United States. Others drew a more far-reaching conclusion. “The destruction of the Third Commonwealth, no less catastrophic than the destruction of the first two temples,” was how the Israeli ambassador defined it to President Douglas, as he presented him with Israel’s protest.
The Israeli government maintained official silence; except for the protest note to the president, nothing was done or said. While innumerable stormy meetings were held in Jerusalem, some of them long into the night, no consensus was reached and no decisions were taken. As they had done more than once in the past, the Israelis preferred to bury their heads in the sand; deciding only not to decide for the time being. But now the situation was much more serious: the U.S. decision about the three-way summit, including its support for the Arab position that Israel should limit immigration, symbolized a political upheaval of ominous significance.
Finally, the prime minister broke the silence. “I see no way, other than to prepare for a long and extremely difficult struggle. The Americans’ recent decisions are not merely a blatant and grave violation of the strategic balance of the region, but primarily a violation of the political balance. I have no doubt that they have agreed, in effect, to the destruction of Israel; at least as we have known it to this day.”
Meir Gilat weighed his response. “We must send another message to the American president, in which we do not conceal our deep concern at the dangers being created in the region. We should also show our disappointment at the administration’s decision to support the agreement with the head of a terrorist organization that still hasn’t abandoned its call for Israel’s destruction, let alone refuses to recognize Israel’s basic right to exist.”
“For the moment, I would not propose a stronger response. Under the present situation, we simply cannot permit ourselves to give the administration a pretext for a further cut in aid. Our relations with the U.S. are already in a state of crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen.”
“What do you think, Michael?”
The defense minister worriedly ran his thick fingers back through his silvery hair. Almost half a minute lapsed before he replied. “We are facing a very grave danger. It seems to me that the peace initiative they are trying to force on us this time has much more serious ramifications than the actual supply of sophisticated equipment to hostile countries. The consistent support for the radical positions of the Arabs does not augur well for us at this stage and under existing circumstances. There is only one course of action that seems to me to be practical. I regret it’s the only way…”
* * *
It was nearly 02:30, but the prime minister of Israel continued to pace his study restlessly. The unprecedented decision taken by the inner cabinet of three would probably rob him of sleep for days to come. No detail of that decision must ever be revealed.
Sighing deeply, he reached for the phone.