Page 27 of 43
“Humanly speaking, war can no longer be avoided. Only God can stop this war, and not the god of Islam. Not the Twelfth Imam. Not the mullahs or the ayatollahs. Their god—the god of Islam—wants a war. He wants to rob, kill, and destroy all that we know and love and hold dear to our hearts. But the One True God—the God of the Bible, the God of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ—He is the Prince of Peace. He came to bring us life—eternal and abundant and fruitful and meaningful.”
David found himself transfixed, as were the others in the room. He had read Najjar’s story in the transcripts of his conversations with Eva. He knew the basic trajectory of Najjar’s conversion. Yet there was something about seeing a man tell such a story at such a moment on worldwide television at the risk of his life—and at the risk of being taken down by the FBI on the air—that David found more compelling than he would have thought. He found himself impressed by Najjar’s earnestness and drawn to the depths of his conviction.
“Jesus Christ is the only one who can stop this war,” Najjar concluded. “Pray to Him. Get on your knees—get down on your faces—and ask Him to forgive you, beg Him to save you, implore Him to redeem you and your family and your nation. For Jesus Christ is all that stands between us and an eternity in hell. He may not spare us from war. He may let this war come to punish us for our wickedness. But He will save you individually if you ask Him. Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.’ My friends, now is the time. This is the day. This is the time of God’s favor. Receive Jesus Christ by faith and receive the free gift of eternal life before it is too late.”
David glanced at Birjandi and wondered how it could be that he and Najjar were reading from the same playbook.
“Did any of you write down Dr. Malik’s Twitter account address?” asked the oldest of the group, a guy named Ali, who had been the quietest in the room thus far.
“Yes, here it is,” said the youngest, Ibrahim, the guy who had just outed himself as a follower of Christ. “I just signed up myself.”
They all signed up, even David, who was embarrassed at not already having a Twitter account, something he had never even considered before. But how could he not follow everything Najjar was telling the world? Wasn’t he supposed to be in the intelligence business? How could he let twentysomethings in Iran know more than he did? He doubted Roger Allen or Tom Murray were going to track Najjar, and he wondered if Zalinsky had even heard of Twitter.
“Do you guys all think he’s right?” David asked the group. “Do you think that ‘humanly speaking, war can no longer be avoided’?”
They all did.
“Why?” David pressed. “I mean, is it just for the reasons Dr. Malik said? Is it a gut instinct? Or something else?”
“The Israelis are going to hit us,” Ibrahim said. “They’re not going to wait. They’ve heard what the Mahdi and our Supreme Leader and our president have said. They’ve heard all the threats, and they’re going to strike first. You mark my words.”
The cleric next to Ibrahim vigorously disagreed. “You’re wrong, Ibrahim. The Americans will hold back the Israelis. That’s why they sent the CIA director to Jerusalem. That’s why the president is going to talk to the Mahdi. The Americans think the Mahdi can be reasonable. They have no idea who they’re dealing with. When the war comes, and I believe it will come any day, it will be because the Mahdi initiated it. And it’s going to be bloody. Many, many will die.”
“You’re misreading the Israelis,” Ibrahim countered. “They’re close to the Americans, yes. But at their core they are driven by their memories of the Holocaust and their determination to never allow another one to occur. Don’t you remember how the Israeli Air Force hit Saddam’s nuclear facilities in 1981 at Osirak? Don’t you remember how they hit Assad’s nuclear facilities near Damascus in 2007? The Israelis are coming here next. To think the Americans could offer them anything to dissuade them from defending themselves against what they perceive is an impending second Holocaust is fantasy.”
Then Ali weighed in unexpectedly. “I wish the Americans could do something—anything—to stop this war,” he said with a deep sense of sadness in his voice and in his eyes. “But it’s coming, and fast. Ibrahim, my friend, you are wise beyond your years. You have insight and knowledge that make me envious. But in this case you are wrong. The Israelis will never get the chance to strike first because the Tehran Initiative is now in motion, and it cannot be stopped.”
“What’s the Tehran Initiative?” David asked.
“The Tehran Initiative is the Mahdi’s doomsday scenario,” Ali said.
“Meaning what?” David pressed.
“Yeah, what are you talking about?” Ibrahim asked.
“To destroy Israel and wipe out all the Jews,” Ali explained. “I don’t know all the details. I just know what my father told me. He said he can’t be at my son’s birthday party on Saturday because he has been summoned to the Qaleh for a final strategy meeting for the Tehran Initiative. That was all he said, and then he hung up the phone.”
“When was that?” Ibrahim asked.
“This morning, just after breakfast,” Ali said. “I can’t even tell you how ticked off my wife is at him. She’s been planning this party for weeks, and my dad promised to attend. But my mom says it’s not just him. Faridzadeh and Jazini have ordered all of their senior commanders to be there. They’ve canceled all military leaves, at least in the air force and the missile command units. This morning they began issuing orders to call up the air combat reserves. I don’t know what’s happening with the army, but my mom said the rumor is all the families of the air force senior commanders are going to be moved to special bunkers starting tomorrow. My point is, Dr. Malik is dead-on. War is coming, and the Mahdi is going to start it.”
The whole group erupted in discussion, and David wasn’t sure how to proceed without looking too interested. He didn’t know them, and they didn’t know him. He had to tread carefully. He trusted Birjandi, and Birjandi clearly trusted these young men. But they didn’t know he was CIA. They thought he worked for a phone company. He couldn’t suddenly be asking questions that were too probing or too detailed. Ali was saying that Iran’s minister of defense and the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps were making final preparations to attack Israel. David assumed that to be true, but how would Ali know such things, and who was his father?
As if reading David’s mind, Birjandi leaned over and whispered, “Ali’s father is a highly decorated general in the Iranian Air Force. Flies F-4s. Last I heard, he commands Tactical Air Base number six.”
“In Bushehr?” David whispered back as the rest of the group buzzed about the new details Ali had just provided.
Birjandi nodded. “That’s the one.”
David leaned into Birjandi and asked as quietly as he could, “Is what he’s saying credible?”
“Ali has no reason to lie,” the old man said. “He’s the leader of this group. He’s the quietest among them but the most influential. He knows each one of these guys. He came to Christ before any of them. He recruited them one by one and then brought them to me and begged me to meet with them once a week. He has his father’s gift of leadership, I’d say.”
“Is his father a Christian?”
“I wish,” Birjandi said. “No, I’m afraid he is a committed Twelver.”
* * *
Javad had never seen a man in such a rage.
They had just taken off from Cairo International Airport en route for Amman and were barely at cruising altitude, but the Mahdi was already out of his seat. He was cursing at the top of his lungs, smashing glasses and demanding the pilots reroute the plane to Iran instead.
Javad cowered in his seat, keeping his head down, trying not to make eye contact but fearful the Mahdi was going to turn his wrath on him. The man was demanding to know how Najjar Malik could have been allowed to escape from Iran at all. How could he have been lured away by the Americans? How much did he know? Had Saddaji’s computer ever been found, the one he’d kept in his home? What information had been on that computer? How much of Iran’s nuclear program had been compromised? How much had the Americans told the Zionists? The questions kept coming one after another, and Javad didn’t have the answer to a single one.
* * *
Marseille drove into the District.
It was still raining, but she didn’t care. She parked near the Washington Monument, grabbed her bright-red umbrella, stuffed some quarters into the meter, locked her car, and looked around, wondering where to go. To her right was the White House. Behind her was the Capitol building and some of the Smithsonian museums. Straight ahead, beyond the Washington Monument, was the World War II Memorial. To her left was the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Traffic was getting snarled by drivers anxious about the increasingly slick roads. An ambulance was approaching from a distance, trying to snake its way through the congestion. There were hardly any tourists out, of course. Who would be stupid enough to get soaked in such a downpour? But Marseille literally didn’t know where to turn.
For no particular reason, she started walking up the Mall toward the Capitol, but though she hadn’t seen these sites since she was about thirteen, she wasn’t really absorbing any of them now. She was still trying to process the news that David worked for the CIA and, though Murray hadn’t completely confirmed it, the likelihood that he was now in Iran. Of course David hadn’t told her when they’d met for breakfast. How could he have? He loved his country. He always had. He’d never thought of himself as an Iranian. He’d always wanted to be a red, white, and blue American. And he was nothing if not loyal. He’d been a loyal friend and a loyal son. She was certain he was loyal to the Agency, and it was no surprise that Murray had said he was very good at what he did. That’s just who David Shirazi was.
Whatever he was doing, Marseille knew, it had to be undercover. The US didn’t have an embassy in Tehran anymore, nor any consulates. So that meant he had to be caught up in all that she was reading about in the papers. Had David been responsible for trying to assassinate the Twelfth Imam? She hoped not. She harbored no doubts about how evil this so-called Islamic messiah was, but she didn’t want to think of her friend as a killer. Maybe David was the intermediary between the president and the Twelfth Imam. It was certainly possible, but wasn’t that almost as bad? It might even be worse. If the Twelfth Imam really was the Antichrist, he was possessed by Lucifer. He had the ability to deceive all whom he enco
untered. From her cursory reading of Bible prophecy, she didn’t see how the Antichrist could be stopped by anyone but God Himself. She prayed silently that David wasn’t anywhere near the Mahdi and wouldn’t go near him. And she prayed once again that the Lord would open David’s eyes and draw him to His heart.
The winds were picking up, and the rain was now coming in at an angle. Her tailored suit was nearly soaked, despite her umbrella. She felt cold and sad and utterly alone. It was not true, she reminded herself. The Lord had promised never to leave her, never to forsake her, but she wanted someone to talk to. She loved the Lord—loved to talk to Him in prayer and listen to Him as she read His Word—but sometimes she wanted a friend she could see, a friend who could hold her and comfort her and tell her everything in her life was going to be all right. She thought of her fellow teachers back in Portland and her principal and his wife, who had always been so kind. She pictured the darling faces of the children she had the joy of teaching every day. On some dark, hard mornings, they were the only practical reason she could think of to get out of bed. And there was Lexi, of course, whom she worried for now more than ever. Israel had seemed like such a dream place to take a honeymoon. Now every new headline threatening imminent war in the Middle East brought new worries that her best friend and her bridegroom could get caught in a disaster. She made a mental note to text Lexi as soon as she got back to her car. She wanted to make sure they were okay and that they were coming home early.
But all of that brought her back to thoughts of David. Where was he? Was he okay? And abruptly she realized she missed him so much it almost physically hurt.
* * *
David had heard enough for now.
He excused himself and stepped into Birjandi’s study. There, he pulled out his phone, punched in his secure code, and hit speed-dial. He had to get all this to Langley.
Zalinsky answered on the first ring. “Code in.”
“Yes, it’s me.”
“What are you doing in Hamadan?”
David was caught off guard by the question. “How did you know?”
“We’re tracking the GPS signal in your phone.”
“Right, of course,” David said, having regretted the foolishness of the question the second it had crossed his lips. “Look, I came to see Chameleon. You’re sure we’re secure?”
“I have news.”
“The Iranian warships that just crossed through the Suez Canal . . .”
“Two of the warheads are on board. They’re attached to missiles, and they’re programmed to hit Tel Aviv and Haifa.”
Zalinsky cursed. “I thought—”
“I know; we all did,” David said. “But apparently Saddaji wasn’t told what the missile scientists were capable of. Maybe he was just behind the curve. Maybe those above him were compartmentalizing. I don’t know. The point is, the warheads are missile ready—two of them at least—and they’re now about three hundred kilometers from Israel’s largest city.”
“You’re absolutely certain about that?”
“It comes directly from the top.”
“They told that to Chameleon, or is he inferring it?”
“They said it directly to him. Obviously, we need to get it verified. . . .”
“We’ll get right on it.”
“Good, and there’s more. The Mahdi is going to launch the war by Monday at the latest. I can’t say which day. It could come at any moment. But I’m told specifically it will come before President Jackson’s call with the Mahdi. I’ve also learned that the senior air force commanders are meeting at Hosseini’s private retreat center, the Qaleh, on Saturday. They’re having a ‘final strategy meeting’ for something that’s being called the Tehran Initiative.”
“What is that?”
“It seems to be the war plan to hit Israel.”
“This also comes from Chameleon?”
“No, but it comes from a source he trusts.”
“The oldest son of the general who commands Tactical Air Base Six.”
“Right. Apparently, Faridzadeh and Jazini have ordered all of their senior commanders to be there. They’ve canceled all military leaves for the air force and the missile command units. They’ve also begun calling up the air combat reserves, and there is a rumor that all the families of the air force senior commanders are going to be moved to special bunkers starting tomorrow.”
“So the Mahdi could launch by Sunday, or even Saturday?” Zalinsky pressed.
“That doesn’t give us much time to find the other six warheads.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Any leads on those?”
“Not yet—this is all I’ve got so far.”
“Any progress on Zandi and Khan?”
“What’s your gut tell you?”
“That we’re going to blow this thing. That we’re going to be too late. The president isn’t even preparing to hit Iran, is he?”
“No. He thinks diplomacy still can work.”
“What do you think?”
“I think you need to find me those other six warheads before they get launched.”
“Easy for you to say.”
“What’s your next move?” Zalinsky asked.
“I honestly don’t know, Jack. I’m racking my brain, but I don’t know what to do next. By the way, are you watching this thing with Najjar?” David asked.
“It’s a disaster.”
“How did this happen?”
“We still don’t know. We’ve got a full manhunt on for him right now. But I’ve got to hand it to him. He’s pretty clever.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because he actually taped the Christian station interview first—then only did twenty minutes live on BBC. By the time the FBI stormed the BBC studios, he was gone. And when the FBI team stormed the Christian station’s studios, they learned the show was taped.”
“So you have no idea where he is at the moment?”
“Not a clue.”
“She and the family are fine. But they haven’t heard from him. They have no way to hear from him or get in touch with him. But Sheyda couldn’t be more proud of Najjar or excited about the reaction.”
“You haven’t heard?”
“No, what happened?”
“Ayatollah Hosseini just issued a fatwa.”
“Against his whole family,” Zalinsky said. “Here, I’ll read it to you verbatim. ‘I would like to inform all the intrepid Muslims in the world that Dr. Najjar Malik and his entire family are hereby sentenced to death. I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly, wherever they find them, so that no one will dare to insult Imam al-Mahdi, Islamic sanctity, or the new Caliphate now emerging. Whoever is killed doing this will be regarded as a martyr and will go directly to heaven.’”