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The Taba Convention

EXCERPT FROM THE TABA CONVENTION

​​PROLOGUE

           

Peace in the Middle East had always seemed impossible, a dream that could never approach reality. Another war was always just around the corner, inevitable. Deep-rooted hatred of the other side lay embedded within both the Arab and Israeli national souls. Politicians gave speeches about the need to negotiate, but no one broke the status quo. Talking of peace was always in fashion, and all politicians were doing their best to look as if it were possible all along.

            The President of the United States had finally run out of patience with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. He instructed the Secretary of State to announce unilaterally that agreement had been reached, and that a peace convention would be held in September.

            The Israelis woke up to headlines in both the  Yediot Ahronoth and Maariv newspapers that screamed up at them from the newsstands: "Peace convention to be held in Taba. U.S President forces hand of Prime Minister and Palestinians. Agreement to be signed at Taba."

            The Israeli left rejoiced. The right was enraged. The Palestinian leadership was taken by surprise. Most people were happy at the chance that peace was perhaps near. The world waited. Would it be possible? With so many against peace at any cost, could the President pull off the biggest foreign policy coup of generations?

            Was the Taba Convention about to make peace in the Middle East a reality?

CHAPTER ONE

ALP GRUM, CANTON GRAUBUNDEN, SWITZERLAND.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 10TH.

             A crisp, high-altitude summer breeze took the heat out of the relentless sunshine. The crystal clear visibility and views were breathtaking. Two thousand meters up, Alp Grum was the highest point reached by the open tourist trains that left St. Moritz. The train climbed the mountains before making its laborious way down into Tirano in Italy. The view was picture-perfect, a Swiss postcard—even down to the cows with bells grazing in the lush green pastures on the mountainsides.

            The morning had been excruciatingly boring for Yuval Eisenstadt of the Mossad. He had followed the Palestinian activist since leaving Israel, catching the same flight two days earlier out of Ben Gurion International to Kloten Airport. Since arriving in Zurich, the Palestinian had done nothing to arouse suspicion.

The Mossad always dispatched two agents when tailing people abroad, but this mission seemed so routine that only Yuval had been assigned. It was a break with agency protocol. Yuval had tried to argue the decision with no success. He did not like being alone. He felt naked, exposed.

            Mohammed Iyad from Gaza had been the model tourist; he strolled the Limmat-Quai and window-shopped on the famous Zurich shopping street, the Bahnhofstrasse. It would be extremely difficult to lose Iyad in Zurich. Shunning modern suits, Iyad wore the traditional Thoub one-piece gown with a brown belt holding in his considerable girth. The Keffiyeh Arab headdress figured prominently on his large round head. He stood out like a sore thumb among the colorful summer crowds of tourists and the exquisitely suited Swiss bankers going about their business.

Yuval knew from the briefing in Jerusalem that his quarry Iyad was involved in furniture imports and supplies to shops and hotels in Israel. He had expected to follow Iyad on a tour of Swiss factories that made the wooden country-style furniture that he imported. He had been wrong. Apart from a brief stop at a large shop on Niederdorfstrasse where he had seen Iyad in earnest conversation with another Arab for about ten minutes, the two days had been spent endlessly walking the beautiful, clean streets of Zurich.

            Getting up early on the third day, Yuval idled near the front desk after a hurried coffee. Iyad appeared and he followed him as he left the hotel. He caught the same train that arrived at St. Moritz at ten-thirty in the morning. Iyad then bought a ticket for the five past eleven mountain train to Alp Grum from platform twelve. Arriving just in time before departure, Yuval had been fortunate to find a seat on the open wagon three rows behind the Palestinian. Yuval thought there must be a good reason for the trip, perhaps a clandestine meeting that he would witness high up on the mountains. A momentary surge of fear washed over him. The train pulled into Alp Grum with typical Swiss precision at twelve noon.

            Climbing up a winding track to a cafe perched on a ridge above the train station, Yuval sipped on a double espresso. He saw Iyad converse with a blue-coated railway worker down below. The feeling of unease crept back. They looked like they knew each other.

            Iyad started on a short hike along one of the many trails that led past mountain streams and meadows and the ever-present views of the deep valleys and the Italian landscape far down below.

            The Palestinian joined a group of three hikers, and it took Yuval a second before he realized that they all knew each other. He knew in that instant that Iyad had lured him here, that he must have been made some time ago in Zurich.

He pulled out his cell phone. He looked at the screen and another wave of panic hit him. No wireless reception. Goddamn it, they must have been too high up there. There had to be a landline in the restaurant; he would make the call from there.

            He hurried back to the station and entered the restaurant to place a call.

            Yuval brushed against another railway man in the narrow corridor on the way to the telephone. It was wall-mounted in the corner, and Yuval was relieved to see that it took coins and not a phone card. He lifted the receiver with one hand and searched in his pocket for some Swiss francs with his other hand.

            He put the receiver up to his ear. Dead. The damn line was dead. They had gotten there before him. Following the wire from the phone, he traced it along the wall. It was cut in two places, a gap of five centimeters cut to make sure that no new connection was possible. The trap was closing in on him. Like a fly trapped in a spider’s web. This was not supposed to be the way it happened. He had been trained to hunt, not to be the hunted

He heard the train pull in after the loudspeaker announcement. He walked briskly along the platform toward the train. Fresh air washed over his face, but the foul stench of fear clung to him.

He chose the open car, and sat at the very back of the last one. Other passengers got on and took their seats in the middle of the car.

He spotted a group of dirty and disheveled looking railway workers dressed in stained blue overalls and muddy black work boots who were taking the opportunity to catch a lift down the mountain. He watched as they clambered into the last car behind the open one, a freight wagon.

            From where he sat, Yuval could see Iyad still talking to the hikers. For a brief, terrifying moment their eyes met and the man let a small smile of satisfaction creep into his face. Iyad looked over his shoulder and acknowledged the group of workers. It was clearly done with the intention that Yuval see it, and he did. The execution had been given the green light.

The train started its descent to St. Moritz and briefly stopped at Bernina Diavolezza to pick up some hikers before continuing. As the train entered an avalanche tunnel, two of the railway workers left the freight car. Under the cover of darkness and the thunderous noise of the train reverberating in the tunnel, they came up swiftly behind Yuval. The young agent could not have realized how fast his death came. They crossed from the freight car behind him and stood on the links that held the cars together. It was as if he had chosen the ideal seat for them to carry out his execution.

They moved fast. It was quick and quiet. The heavily built Arab pinned him firmly against the side of the car. Yuval tried to scream for help, but his screams were drowned by the noise in the tunnel. The other Palestinian crushed his windpipe and broke his neck in one short, violent movement. It was over before the train pulled out of the tunnel, coming out once more into the clear, serene mountain air.

            Iyad climbed into the freight car, bent down, and grabbed hold of the body by the pullover, lifting it up into a sitting position. He smiled as he arranged the hair above the lifeless eyes staring back at him. He pulled out a camera and took a few shots of the corpse. Then he lifted his arm and waved to the men with a gesture of dismissal. Two of the Palestinians opened the freight door and dragged the body to the edge of the car. They waited until the train was running parallel with a precipice and dumped the body overboard into a ravine. They watched it bounce off outcrops of rock until it disappeared below far from sight. It would not be found for a very long time, and then probably by wild animals.

The Righteous Within

Coming soon

EXCERPT FROM THE RIGHTEOUS WITHIN

The White Sands hotel Tel Aviv...

  Jordan followed Shalom into the bedroom. Ronni was lying on his back in the bed. His lifeless eyes stared up at the ceiling. His arms were neatly arranged alongside his body on top of the sheet covering him. There were no signs of violence, but the room seemed too perfect, too natural. Jordan had seen many dead, had killed more than his fair share both in the army and on special operations, but this scared him. It was too neat. Ronni could not possibly have died in this posture. Who had arranged his body like that, and why? Who would want kill Ronni, or had he died of natural causes? No, that did not seem likely. He turned to face Shalom, his mind a whirl of thoughts.

“Know what you’re thinking Jord, and I agree with you.  There is something really creepy about the set up in the room. It’s as if he just got into bed and died, just like that! Even put his arms alongside his body and then gave up the ghost. I took a quick look see before you got here. Martine found him when she came to check the VIP stuff. The unnerving thing is, I found nothing out of the ordinary, and that is what got me going. I haven’t touched the body, but come and have a look at this in the bathroom. I waited for you to come to take a closer look.” Shalom said as he led the way.

            Once in the bathroom he closed the door and turned the shower on full blast at the hottest setting behind the open shower curtain. Shalom explained, “I saw some smears on the mirror. Hardly noticeable, so I want to mist it up and see if they mean anything. Perhaps the poor bastard left us a clue. There’s not much else to go on unless we find fingerprints, and that, as you know, is most unlikely if this was professional.”

            The mirror started misting over as steam filled the bathroom, billowing out from the scalding water behind the curtain. They could now see the smears standing out in contrast to the rest of the mirror that had clouded over evenly. Staring at them from the glass surface they could make out a small Nazi swastika with the letters or word KALB written hurriedly underneath it.  It looked like it was scrawled on the mirror nervously with a finger that had been rubbed in the bar of soap. It was still sitting in a small pool of soapy water on the hand basin.

Coming soon: The Kharta Conspiracy

EXCERPT FROM THE KHARTA CONSPIRACY

       Downtown Teheran...  

  

           Out of the corner of his eye he saw the huge double wooden doors of the IRGC building open and reached instinctively for the Cannon under the rag on the passenger side floor. It was camouflaged to look like a large carton box; not clever but nevertheless effective. The camera was equipped with the latest wireless technology and connected to the safe house computers. Scott knew that each shot would be sent wirelessly from the eye-fi system card in the camera to the central computer in the safe house. From there they would be sent automatically via satellite link directly to CIA headquarters in Langley Virginia. He placed the heavy camera on the dash and aimed the lens through the small window of the old car. No one would notice it among the piles of towels and prayer carpets that covered the hood and roof of the car. He was just another of the poor street merchants that lined up every day on the dirty streets of Teheran trying to eke out a living by selling passersby stuff from their cars.

            Scott sank down lower into his seat and took a look through the viewfinder. He adjusted the focus in time to see a group of people coming down the entrance stairs towards waiting black SUVs’ lined up at the curb a few meters away. The group stopped to talk as they reached the curbside. Scott started photographing the group, snapping pictures in high speed mode. Visibility was good; it was a clear day. He could clearly make out seven men on the curb chatting. Five looked like typical Arabs but two of them stood out in stark contrast to the others. They were dressed from head to toe in black suits with long jackets and black hats on their heads. Who the hell were they? Scott had seen many people come to this building but none so strange looking as these two figures. He thought that he vaguely remembered seeing people dressed like these two in a magazine but he could not remember where or when. He kept his finger pressed firmly on the button.

            The sharp report of a rifle broke through the street sounds. The bullet smashed through the telescopic lens of the camera and tore through Scott’s jaw and throat killing him instantly. Blood and pieces of shattered jaw covered the front seat and floor of the car. His head, almost decapitated, hung on his chest, blood pumping from the severed artery.  Tiny shards of glass from the lens embedded themselves in the torn and cracked plastic of the dashboard. The mangled camera was blown out of the passenger window and broke up on impact with the concrete sidewalk.

            To the bystanders murders like these were part of everyday life on the streets of Teheran. Just like in the Bagdad days of Saddam Hussein and his sons, the Revolutionary Guards had power of life and death over the simple citizens of Iran. Some passersby stole a furtive glance at the car as they passed quickly, too frightened to stop.

            A tow truck appeared alongside the Peugeot. Four revolutionary guards in camouflage jumped down from the cabin. The car was hooked up to the truck and dragged away a short time after, the still warm body of Scott Webber lying in a pool of blood on the front seat. The guards on the truck knew he was a foreign spy, but they also knew it would be impossible to identify the corpse. There were never any real identity papers on the spies. It did not matter to the guards. One of them bent down and picked up the pieces of the camera and threw them into the car through the window. They towed the car to a dusty lot on the outskirts of Teheran. They doused it with gas from jerry cans and set it on fire. Thick black smoke billowed into the clear blue sky from the inferno. The acrid stench of burning rubber and plastic forced them to shield their noses with their hands. They smoked a cigarette and watched as the body blistered and burned, enjoying the spectacle. Soon the only thing left was a burned out shell that was once a Peugeot. It joined a collection of other burned out shells that littered the lot. It was a cemetery for burned cars and a crematorium for foreign spies and opponents of the regime. The Iranians waited until the heat was bearable and approached the car. They peered in through the window and satisfied themselves that there was nothing left of the agent except the blackened bones of the sitting skeleton. They smiled at each other, turned around and walked back towards the tow truck.

            One hour later Mary Swinton, an intelligence operative in Langley chose the ten clearest pictures taken by Scott and placed them in an envelope marked top secret. Next she added the sheet of paper with the names and identities of all the seven men on the curbside in Teheran. The sheet also had the information of the date and time that the photos were taken. She closed the envelope and stapled it shut. She processed many photographs during a busy day, but these were different, very different. She picked up the telephone on her desk and tapped in a number.

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