Authors: Patrick Robinson
“And the second installment?”
“That will be wired into the same account forty-eight hours before your attack commences. And you will be in a position to check its arrival. Plainly, if it does not come you will not launch the attack.” Gaston Savary looked quizzical. “Jacques,” he said, “I assure you, your paltry sum of ten million dollars is the very least of the problems facing the French government and the incoming Saudi regime at this time.”
“Am I obliged to keep the money in France? Perhaps to avoid taxes?” asked Colonel Gamoudi.
“Colonel,” said General Jobert, “you will have a letter, signed by the President of France, absolving you from all French government taxes for the remainder of your lifetime, and that of Giselle.”
Jacques Gamoudi whistled through his front teeth. “And my bonus?” he said.
“That will be presented in the form of a no-refund, no-recall cashier’s check, to be held by Giselle. But dated for one month after the operation. She will be given the check at the precise time we pay the second five-million-dollar installment.”
“And if the attack should fail?”
“Our emissaries will call at the house to retrieve the check.”
“And if I should be killed in action?”
“Giselle will keep the check and deposit it to her account at the Bank of Boston.”
“And am I free to move the money around if I wish? Perhaps to a different bank?”
“It is no business of ours what you do with the money,” said Gaston Savary. “No business at all. Except for us to express our immense gratitude for what you will have done for your country. And to wish you the best of fortune and prosperity in the future.”
“And what if the attacks from the sea should fail, and the Saudi oil industry is somehow saved?”
“If that happened the operation would be canceled. You keep the initial five million, and come home.”
“And the second five million?”
“We are paying ten million for you to launch the attack and take Riyadh,” said Savary flatly. “Clearly, we don’t pay if you do not attack. And the attack would be impossible if the King remained in control of the Army, which he would, if the oil keeps flowing. Everything depends on the destruction of the oil industry.”
“You make it very clear, and very tempting,” said Jacques Gamoudi. “Giselle?”
“Well, I don’t want you to die,” she said. “And I did think we were past all this fighting and battles. I am very happy here, and you are happy. However, I cannot pretend that I would not wish to have all that money. How dangerous is this?”
“Very,” said Gamoudi, without hesitation. “But we fight a weakened enemy. Maybe one with no stomach for the fight. I think your Saudi prince is correct—no army wants to fight for someone who may not pay them. It knocks the stuffing out of them. Soldiers too have wives and families, and I think the Saudi Army may feel they have no alternative but to join the new regime. That way they carry on getting paid.
“A popular rising by the people is often the easiest of military operations. Because there are too many reasons for their opponents not to fight—one of these is normally money, the second is usually more important; all soldiers have a natural distaste for turning their guns on their own people. They don’t like it. And quite often they refuse to do it.”
“If I agree, will you do it?” asked Giselle.
Before the ex–Foreign Legion commander could reply, Gaston Savary stood up and Michel Jobert gave a suggestion of a nod.
“Jacques,” said Savary, “you and Giselle have much to discuss. We were thinking in terms of one week. I am going to give you two business cards: one is for me and my personal line, the other is for the General and his private number at COS headquarters. If you and Giselle decide to go ahead, you will call one of us, and say very simply that you wish to talk. Nothing more. You will then replace the telephone and wait.
“Meanwhile, remember, the only people in the whole of France who know anything of this are the President, the Foreign Minister, the four people in this room, and two Admirals of the French Navy. That’s eight. I need hardly mention, you will say nothing to anyone. But of course we know you never would. We know your record.”
And with that, the two callers from Paris stood up and shook hands warmly with the mountain guide and his wife. But before they left, Savary had one last question. “Jacques Gamoudi,” he said, “Why Hooks? Such a strange name for a Frenchman to adopt.”
Colonel Gamoudi laughed. “Oh,” he said, “that was the name of the U.S. Ambassador we successfully evacuated out of Brazzaville back in June, 1999. Fourteen U.S. citizens altogether. Ambassador Aubrey Hooks was a good and brave man.”
TWO MONTHS LATER, AUGUST
It had been a long, somewhat intensive, road to Bab Tourma Street, in the old part of the city of Damascus. There had been a zillion contacts with Hezbollah, even more with the militant end of the Iranian government. There had been countless clandestine talks with contacts inside al-Qaeda, mostly orchestrated by Prince Nasir. And finally a succession of e-mail exchanges with the leaders of the most feared of all terrorist groups, Hamas.
But Gaston Savary and Gen. Michel Jobert had finally made it. The Syrian government staff car, containing two local bodyguards and the two Frenchmen, pulled smoothly to a halt outside the big house near the historic gate in the city wall. This was the secretive and well-guarded home of the Hamas Commander in Chief, Gen. Ravi Rashood, and his beautiful Palestinian wife, Shakira.
And Prince Nasir had been insistent.
We need this man. He will bring us military discipline, and he will bring with him heavily armed, experienced Arab freedom fighters. We can’t destroy a military air base with a bunch of amateurs, and this Hamas C-in-C is the best they’ve ever had.
And now Gaston Savary and General Jobert were about to meet him, on his own ground. But, nonetheless, as allies. France’s roots in Syria go very deep, but the key to this forthcoming conversation rested in one simple fact—there could never be an Islamic nation that stretched from the Arabian Gulf to the Atlantic end of North Africa so long as Saudi Arabia operated with one foot in the United States of America. Every Islamic fundamentalist knew that, every Islamic fundamentalist understood that there was something treacherous, non-Arabian, about the way the Saudi King both ran with the fox and hunted with the hounds. Or whatever the desert equivalent of that saying may be.
And now these two Frenchmen were here, about to enter the lair of the greatest terrorist the world had ever known. And they were bringing with them, perhaps, a formula to change everything. Savary and Jobert would be made very welcome by General Rashood, the native Iranian who had once served as an SAS Commander in the British army.
The door was opened by a slim young Syrian dressed in the customary long white robe. He bowed his head slightly and said quietly, “General Rashood is awaiting you.” They were led down a long, bright, stone-floored corridor to a tall pair of dark wood doors. The Syrian opened one of them and motioned the Frenchmen through. Their two bodyguards, provided by the government, took up positions outside.
The room was not large, and General Rashood was alone, as agreed. He sat at a wide antique desk with a green leather top. To his left was a silver tea service, which had been brought in as the government car arrived. To his right a service revolver was placed on the desk, symbolically next to a leather-bound copy of the Koran.
Ravi Rashood rose and walked around the desk to greet his visitors. A thick-set man, with short dark hair and an unmistakable spring to his step, he wore faded light blue jeans and a loose white shirt.
he said in the customary greeting of the desert. Peace be upon you.
The two Frenchmen offered a couple of sharp “
in response, and General Rashood poured them all tea into little glass cups in silver holders. “Welcome to my home,” he said graciously. “But time is short. You should not linger here for many reasons. In Damascus the walls and the trees have ears, and eyes.”
“It’s not much different in Paris,” said the French Secret Service Chief. “But Paris is bigger, and thus more confusing.”
General Rashood smiled and offered his guests sugar, saying quietly, “I have of course been briefed very carefully about your plan. I have studied it in all its aspects. And I believe every Arab of the Islamic faith would welcome it. The antics of the Saudi royal family really are too excessive, and as you know, there can be no real prospect for a great Islamic state so long as Riyadh allows itself to be ruled by Washington.”
“We understand that only too well,” said General Jobert. “And the months go by, and the situation grows worse. The King, it seems, will tolerate anything from the younger members of his family. I expect you read of that appalling accident involving the passenger liner off Monaco. The King simply refuses to discuss it. According to our sources, the Crown Prince, Nasir, is the only hope that country has of growing up and taking its place at the center of the Islamic world, where it belongs.”
“Of course I have not been briefed about the precise requirements of your plan,” said Rashood. “But I understand we are looking at the destruction of the oil industry, followed by a military attack on one of the Saudi military bases, and then the capture of Riyadh and the overthrow of the royal family.”
“In the broadest terms, correct,” said Michel Jobert. “The main thing is to take the oil industry off the map for maybe two years. Because as soon as that is achieved the King will automatically be weakened badly. In Riyadh the mob is almost at the gates right now. The looming bankruptcy of the nation should be sufficient for them to herald a new regime.”
“I don’t think we can attack one of those military cities,” said General Rashood. “They are too big, too solidly built, and too well defended. Have you thought about the air bases?”
“Exactly so,” replied General Jobert. “We think the King Khalid Air Base, at Khamis Mushayt, is the one for us. If we can hit and destroy the aircraft on the ground, and achieve the surrender of the base, I think we could launch a separate squad at the command headquarters of the main base and demand their surrender.
“Remember, they will already know we’ve hit and crippled the oil industry, and they’ll know we’ve hit and destroyed a large part of the Saudi Air Force. I think they might be ready to surrender. And if Khamis Mushayt surrendered, that would probably cause a total cave-in of the Army, especially as the television station will by now be appealing for loyalty to the incoming new King.”
“Yes, I think all that follows,” said General Rashood. “But what precisely is it you wish me to do?”
“I would like you to train and command the force that will assault the bases at Khamis Mushayt. And we would like you to be in constant communication with the commander in charge of the attack in Riyadh, and to move in to assist him in the final stages of the coup d’état in the capital.”
“And where do I get the force to attack Khamis Mushayt? I would need specialists.”
“French Army Special Forces,” said General Jobert. “Well-trained, experienced fighters with expert skills in critical areas. We would also expect you to bring perhaps a dozen of your most trusted men. Your guides inside Saudi Arabia will all be al-Qaeda, who will provide backup fighters if required.”
“We’ll need several months for training and coordination,” said General Rashood. “Where will we train?”
“France. Inside the classified areas where we prepare all our Special Forces. Top secret,” replied General Jobert. “Most of it inside the barracks of the First Marine Parachute Infantry.”
“Final training will be at a secret camp in Djibouti. From there you move into Saudi Arabia.”
“We thought that would be a problem best left to your good self.”
General Rashood nodded gravely. “I imagine there will be no budget restrictions.”
“Absolutely not. What you need, you get.”
“And for myself? Do you have a figure in mind for my services?”
“In such a patriotic mission for the Islamic cause, we wondered if you might consider doing this for nothing.”
“You wouldn’t? Not for the ultimate creation of an Islamic state?”
“A shame, General. I was led to be believe you were an idealist.”
“I am, in some ways. But if I manage to achieve our objectives, I imagine there will be literally billions of petro-dollars flying around in favor of France. Otherwise you would not be here. You are not idealists. You are in it for gain. And I do not work as an unpaid executive for greedy Western states, although I appreciate the philanthropic nature of your request.”
“Then do you have a figure in mind?”
“A figure on the value of my life? Yes, a lot.”
“How much?” asked Savary.
“I would not get out of this chair to embark on such a mission for one cent under ten million dollars. And if it works I want a bonus.”
General Jobert nodded. “I think that could be arranged.”
“And, in addition, there would need to be a substantial payment to a Hamas account, since we need to pay perhaps twenty men perhaps a hundred thousand dollars each.
“What do you think Hamas would require?” asked Savary.
“For the loss of their Commander in Chief? For maybe six months? I’d think another ten million.”
“That’s a great deal of money,” said General Jobert.
“Not to the Saudis,” said General Rashood. “And don’t bother telling me France is paying, because I know that could not be true.”
General Jobert smiled, as if to confirm he might have known what to expect from this Middle Eastern hard man who had defected from the SAS to follow his heart back to the desert lands of his birth.
“And your bonus?”
“If we take the southern bases, and I successfully help your commander in Riyadh, putting a new king on the throne of Saudi Arabia—I think another five million dollars would be fair.”
“I think that, too, could be arranged,” said General Jobert. But this will take some months to put into practice…Perhaps you could make a very short trip to Paris in the next few weeks, to meet our Riyadh commander. You will be working closely together in the coming months.”