Authors: Patrick Robinson
“That would be my pleasure,” said General Rashood. “But now you must go. We will continue to communicate through the Syrian embassy in Paris. And I will confirm the agreement of my masters in the Hamas council.”
The Frenchmen shook hands with the General on the agreement. And they hurried from the house and into the waiting car, which would speed directly to the airport and the waiting French Air Force jet, bound for Paris.
26, 2009, 4:00
DAMASCUS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Daniel Mostel, age twenty-four, was one of a few thousand Jewish residents of Damascus. His well-connected parents, who ran a highly successful car hire company with excellent government contracts, preferred the relaxed religious mood of Syria’s principal city, and had always resisted the temptation to immigrate to Israel.
Mostel worked in air traffic control and hoped one day to become a pilot. He spent most of his evenings studying to take the Air France examinations. On weekends he attended a pilot training school out at the other airport, Aleppo, east of the city.
The family had lived in Damascus for several generations. Indeed, Mostel’s grandfather had worked as a flight engineer during the 1930s, when France effectively ruled the country. But it was his maternal grandfather, Benjamin Lerner, who had most influenced young Daniel. Benjamin had lived in Israel and had often regaled the young Daniel with stories of Israel’s monumental bravery during the wars with the Arabs in 1967 and 1973.
The result was that Daniel Mostel was a member of the
, that secret, worldwide Israeli brotherhood whose members would do
to help the tough, beleaguered little nation that stood defiantly at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, not so much surrounded as engulfed by Arab states.
Daniel Mostel was a fanatic for the cause of Israel. He had often considered leaving home and returning to the land of his forefathers. But his main contact in the Mossad knew he was of more value to Israel right there in the control tower of the Damascus International Airport, staying alert and watchful. Mostel had never breathed a word to his parents about his involvement with the
. But he had told his grandfather before he died that he was fighting for the cause the best way he could.
And at this particular moment in the hot afternoon, he was greatly confused by an Air France jet airliner, a European Airbus, standing separately from all other aircraft, with no passengers, and nothing, so far as he could see, in the way of a flight plan.
Shortly after four o’clock he saw the air crew plus two flight attendants board the jet, and ten minutes later a black Syrian government car pulled up to the base of the steps up at the forward section. One single man stepped out of the rear door of the automobile and climbed nimbly up the wide embarkation staircase. He carried a small leather holdall and wore faded blue jeans with a white shirt and a light brown suede jacket.
Mostel saw the crew close the aircraft’s main door immediately, and he watched the plane taxi out to the end of the runway. Two stations down from his own, he heard his boss say firmly,
“Air France zero-zero-one cleared for takeoff.”
Daniel Mostel had not the slightest idea who was aboard that aircraft. But he knew there was but one passenger. And it was a big plane to be carrying only one person.
It was out of the question that he should ask where it was going or whom it was carrying. It was plainly none of his business. And to make such an inquiry may very well have aroused suspicions about himself.
General Rashood had been most certainly correct about one thing—the walls and the trees had ears and eyes in Damascus.
Daniel Mostel took his break at 5
local time. He left the airport for ten minutes, driving out to a lonely part of the desert. And there, using his mobile cell phone, he called a very private number at the western end of the city, out on Palestine Avenue. And he reported the departure of the Air France flight. He gave the serial number painted on the fuselage, the zero-zero-one flight number, which was plainly invented, and the fact that a government car had delivered the plane’s only passenger. Took off to the west, 1630.
Twenty minutes later Mossad agents were being alerted in Cairo, Tripoli, Baghdad, Tel Aviv, Rome, Nice, Paris, London, and Amsterdam. The Mossad, Israel’s relentlessly efficient secret service, disliked anything clandestine being conducted by anyone in their territory. And this possessed the hallmarks of secrecy on an international scale. The signal to the agents was simple: find out who’s onboard Air France zero-zero-one out of Damascus.
And since the brotherhood of the
was active in just about every airport and flight check-point in Europe, it took about a half-hour to establish that the flight was on its way to Paris, where it was due to land at 7:30
., a two-hour time gain on a five-hour flight.
Simon Baum, who waited up on the viewing deck at Charles de Gaulle Airport, was watching through binoculars with several other plane-spotters. But Simon was not just a member of the
. He was the Bureau chief of the Mossad’s entire Paris operation, located in the basement of the Israeli embassy.
He saw the Air France flight come in to land, right on time, and he guessed correctly that it would taxi somewhere close to the area in which a French government car was waiting, close to where the young “baggage handler” Jacob Fabre was standing behind a line of in-flight catering carts, hidden from view, holding an extremely expensive digital camera with a long-range lens built in.
Young Fabre had done this before. He too was a member of the
and he was well accustomed to trying to snatch pictures of incoming passengers who were apparently of interest to the Mossad. The camera belonged to Simon Baum, and there would be a cashier’s check for
1,000 in the mail for him the following week.
He watched the aircraft taxi into position no more than forty yards from where he stood. The main cabin door opened, and a flight attendant stepped outside and waited at the top of the steps. Fabre aimed the camera straight at the door as the only passenger appeared…
The passenger turned away to speak to the flight attendant. Then back toward the terminal building.
…Fabre caught him once more. Then twice as he came down the stairs. But then the man turned away, toward the waiting car. Fabre snapped the car for good measure. And then shot two more frames through the rear passenger window as it sped away toward the private entrance to the airport. Nine shots. In the next twenty minutes he would hand the camera back to Monsieur Baum, and hope that the pictures would develop satisfactorily.
The government car came through the guarded gates swiftly, and immediately a black Peugeot fell in behind and tracked its quarry all the way along the main road into the northern suburbs of Paris. From there the government car turned west and headed across the top of the city toward Taverny, where it moved fast down two quiet streets and swung into the guarded gates of COS.
The pursuing car did not follow into the final approach road, but swerved away to the south, back to the central part of the city and the Israeli embassy.
But the Mossad now knew two things. The mystery man from Damascus was ensconced in the Commandement des Opérations Speciales in Taverny. And secondly COS
did not wish anyone to know his whereabouts.
Simon Baum knew it would be extremely difficult to track anyone in France whom the military did not wish to be tracked. If the mystery man from the desert was going anywhere internally, he would travel by military jet or helicopter.
Simon Baum would rely on the
, and meanwhile he would send Jacob Fabre’s photographs over the Internet to all of his main offices and agents in France, and something might break loose. He held out no real hope that the visitor was of any special interest to him or his organization, but the Mossad did not attain its fearsome reputation by not bothering. It had become the world’s most notorious intelligence network because it missed nothing, left nothing to chance, and solved all problems to the best of its ability.
You might have a chance to get away from Britain’s MI-6 and, indeed, since the Presidency of Bill Clinton, from the CIA. Generally speaking there was no chance whatsoever of escape from the Mossad.
And so young Fabre’s photographs were circulated throughout the vast network of the Israeli Secret Service. And, curiously, the first coded e-mail signal came back from headquarters in Tel Aviv. It said simply:
VISITOR TO PARIS
RAY KERMAN OF BRITISH SAS
Simon Baum stared at the name of the most wanted man in Israel, Maj. Ray Kerman, who had jumped ship in the Battle of Palestine Road, in the West Bank city of Hebron three years ago. Kerman, who had hit Israel’s Nimrod jail and released every one of the most dangerous political prisoners in the entire country. Kerman, scourge of the U.S. West Coast, the most wanted man in the entire world. And here he was, having dinner in the Paris suburb of Taverny with French military chiefs, under strict government protection. Simon Baum could not believe his eyes at the name on the screen before him. But the Mossad does not make mistakes. If they said it was the Hamas C-in-C, then that’s who it was.
They must be joking. At any rate. Not this trip.
Simon Baum never slept that night. He remained in his office, in the bowels of the Israeli embassy, sipping cognac poured into dark Turkish coffee—what Parisians call
. He constantly checked his e-mail.
But the night was quiet, and so was the new day. Baum worked restlessly, checking dozens of communications until the early afternoon, when he finally dozed off in his office. He was asleep at his desk when the long-range French Marine Commando helicopter, the SA 365-7 Dauphin 2, clattered into the sky above Taverny, bearing the COS director, Gen. Michel Jobert, and the Hamas General, Ravi Rashood, along the first miles of their long journey to the south.
They flew to the eastern side of Paris, well clear of the heavy air traffic around Charles de Gaulle Airport, and set a course due south. It would take them east of the city of Lyon, then down the long Rhone River valley, all the way to the delta in the glistening salt marshes of the Camargue. From there they would swing east along the coast, across the great bay of Marseille, and into the small landing area the Foreign Legion operated at Aubagne, fifteen miles east of France’s second city.
It could scarcely have gone more smoothly. Except for one certain Moshe Benson, air traffic controller at the small regional airport near the village of Mions, which stood eight miles southwest of Lyon’s main Saint-Exupéry Airport, and thus considerably closer to the flight path of the Marine Commando helicopter.
Benson picked the helicopter up on the airport radar as it clattered ten thousand feet above the vineyards of Beaujolais. He realized instantly that it was military, not transmitting, and not offering any call sign to this particular control point. This was slightly unusual, even though the military in France were apt to operate with a degree of independence.
Moshe Benson made a routine call to the control tower in Marseille to report formally that a fast, unidentified helicopter had just come charging through his air space, and that they might keep a watch for it. He told them he assumed it was French military.
Meanwhile, Simon Baum was awakened by one of his agents to learn that a Marine Commando Dauphin 2 helicopter had taken off one hour ago from the Taverny complex and appeared to be headed south. The Mossad chief immediately called four
at various airports—Dijon, Limoges, Lyon, and Grenoble. The only one who could help was Moshe Benson.
Simon Baum knew that the range of the Dauphin was less than 500 miles and he knew that Marseille was 425 miles south of Paris. Unless it was going sightseeing along the Riviera, that particular helicopter was going into Marseille or, more likely, to the military base at Aubagne.
For some reason he was not quite able to explain, Baum badly wanted to know who was onboard that Dauphin. He had a gut feeling it might be the elusive terrorist commander Ravi Rashood. And his country wanted that man dead at any cost.
He called two of his top agents in Marseille and told them to get out to Aubagne on the double. He checked his man in the main city airport, Marseille-Provence, and put him on full alert, though he did not expect the Dauphin to fly in there.
Thus, by the time Generals Michel Jobert and Ravi Rashood touched down in Aubagne in the gathering dusk, there was a black Peugeot discreetly parked along the main road to Marseille, 200 yards beyond the main gates to the Foreign Legion garrison. Through powerful binoculars, Simon Baum’s men had watched the Dauphin land, and now they were watching for an army staff car to exit the garrison bearing at least one and possibly two passengers.