The Tehran Initiative

Page 35 of 43


At that, the prime minister stepped back into the conversation. “Just after the first of the year, as you’ll recall, I went to see my friend Jilan Kazarov, the president of Azerbaijan,” Naphtali said. “We met in his gorgeous villa in Baku, on the shores of the Caspian Sea. He was very gracious. He has seen the Iranian threat for a long time. He understands it. I gave him my list of requests, including more electronic listening posts near the Iranian border and the ability to pre-position these SAR teams, and he gave me everything I asked for.”

Naphtali paused briefly. He waited for people to stop jotting notes or looking at the video monitors and for all eyes to be back on him.

“Levi and I and the IDF chiefs have looked at this thing a thousand different ways, gentlemen, and we’ve concluded that hitting these targets isn’t the hardest part. It’s going to be very hard—extremely hard—don’t get me wrong. But it’s not the hardest part. The real problem is after our planes get home and the full-scale retaliation begins. The Iranians have at least a thousand ballistic missiles, most of which are aimed at us. Hezbollah in the north has at least fifty thousand rockets and missiles aimed at us. The Syrians have theirs. Hamas has theirs. Succeeding with our first strike isn’t what worries me. Riding out their first wave is.”


Langley, Virginia

“You did what?”

Zalinsky’s face was so red it was almost purple. There were veins in his neck and forehead that looked like they were going to burst at any moment. Eva had known the man for years, and she had never seen him so angry. He was shouting at her in the middle of the Global Operations Center, and almost two dozen more CIA staff were watching.

“I didn’t have a choice,” Eva responded, trying to maintain her composure. “It was a split-second call—a life-and-death decision—and you weren’t available, so I made the call.”

“You retasked the Predator away from the missile base to help an agent in trouble?”

“Absolutely,” Eva said. “And I’d do it again.”

“You weren’t authorized to do it the first time,” Zalinsky shouted, “and there isn’t going to be a next time.” He turned to the uniformed security guards by the main door. “Guards, I need Eva Fischer taken into custody immediately.”

Eva was incredulous. “You’re having me arrested?”

“We operate within a chain of command around here, Ms. Fischer. You don’t get to break it. No one gets to break it.” He addressed the guards, who were now putting Eva in handcuffs. “Get her out of my sight.”

* * *

Route 56, Iran

David was driving as fast as he dared.

He was heading east on 56, toward Arak. Khorramabad was far behind him, but that wasn’t making him feel any safer. He feared he had already pushed his luck too far. He needed to find a place to interrogate Khan, hide the Peugeot, and regroup. Khan wasn’t shrieking anymore, but David feared he was losing him. He had to move fast.

David suddenly remembered his meeting in Qom. The road he was on would get him there eventually. He was a little more than an hour away. But he certainly couldn’t go now, not with Khan and Yaghoubi and with a car that had been shot to pieces. He speed-dialed the MDS technical team leader and apologized profusely.

“Look, I’m very sorry, but something has come up,” he said. “I’m going to be late, probably this afternoon at the earliest. . . . You sure? . . . Okay, I’ll check in when I’m almost there and give you an update. . . . I know, I owe you. . . . What? . . . Very funny. . . . Okay, see you soon—bye.”

He hung up and kept driving. About fifty kilometers outside of Arak, he saw an exit for the Lashkardar Protected Area, one of Iran’s national forests. Seeing no cars behind or in front of him at the moment, he took a left and headed north for about fifteen minutes, past five or six impoverished homesteads, until he found the forest and a parking lot nestled alongside a row of small, rustic cabins surrounded by thousands of pine trees and hiking trails leading off in every direction. The lot was empty. It was far too early in the season for camping. So David parked and told Khan to stay quiet.

He rechecked the pistol, making sure it was fully loaded, then moved quickly to the first cabin. It was empty. So were each of the others, though all of them were locked. He kicked through the door of the cabin nearest the Peugeot, then ran back to check on his two prisoners. He had no idea what he was going to do with Yaghoubi. He just hoped he didn’t have to kill him.

Switching off the safety, he prepared to pop the trunk with his keys. It was the first chance he’d had to see how much damage had been done by the gun battle at the hotel, and he counted no fewer than seven bullet holes in the crumpled bumper and the badly dented trunk. Now he aimed the pistol, stepped back a few feet, and hit unlock. The trunk slowly opened, and David braced himself for Yaghoubi’s move. But the man didn’t stir.

“Come on, let’s go—out,” he said.

But the man still did not move, and then, as David looked more closely, he realized that Yaghoubi had been hit several times by bullets that had penetrated the back of the car. He checked for the man’s pulse, but there was none. He felt a twinge of guilt, or at least sorrow for the man, then realized that Yaghoubi had ended up serving as a human shield. Had he not been in the trunk, those rounds might very well have killed Tariq Khan.

* * *

Tel Aviv, Israel

Was it time to call up the Reserves?

The debate around the table had been raging for a quarter of an hour and was still unresolved. The proponents held that there was no time to waste. If they were going to launch Operation Xerxes in the next forty-eight hours and the Israeli people were going to be subjected to a massive missile attack as retaliation, then the prime minister had to order a full mobilization within the hour. They needed to get the Reservists on the road and to their bases before missiles were inbound or risk having key bases undermanned and key positions poorly defended amid a full-blown war.

The opponents—led by the foreign minister—said they should wait a bit longer so as not to take actions that would look provocative to the Mahdi or the rest of the world. To buttress his case, the foreign minister read cables from the Russians, the Chinese, the Germans, the French, and the British, all strongly warning Naphtali and the Israeli government not to launch or provoke a new regional war lest they risk condemnation by the UN Security Council. The American secretary of state, he added, wasn’t being quite as blunt but was warning Jerusalem not to take any “noteworthy action” without “consulting us.”

The vice prime minister was incensed by the threat of UN action, calling it meaningless blather and downright anti-Semitic. This was seconded by several others, but not by Naphtali.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” the prime minister told his colleagues. “No matter what we do, the world is going to condemn us and say it’s our fault. This is nothing new. That’s not the question here. And I’m sad to say, I am bracing for the Americans turning against us as well—not the people, probably not even Congress, but the president for certain. The weight of his administration will be soundly against us. The only question for those of us sitting here is whether we want the Jewish people to survive the Islamic nuclear onslaught or be remembered as the people who weren’t ‘too provocative’—when perhaps they should have been a little more.”

He had decided. He was calling up the Reserves, effective immediately. He would let the defense minister decide which ones and how many, but the number had to be significant, though they would put out a statement saying it was purely for defensive purposes.

* * *

Lashkardar Protected Area, Iran

David checked his watch.

He didn’t have time to regret this man’s death. He opened the back door and helped Khan out. There was blood everywhere. Khan couldn’t stand upright. David tossed the pistol on the grass near the cabin and put Khan’s arm around his neck, then essentially dragged him across the pavement, through the grass, and into the cramped hut, setting him in a weathered wooden chair. Then he stepped outside, picked up the pistol, reentered the cabin, and opened the window shades to let in the morning sunshine. It was time.

“Talk,” he said in Urdu.

“No,” Khan replied in English.

David aimed the pistol at the man’s other knee. “Talk.”

“I have nothing to say to you,” Khan shot back, again in English. “You are CIA, but you’re probably a Jew. May you all die and go to hell.”

“Right now, I’m the only friend you have, Tariq. Now, I can get you out of this country alive. Or I can let your Farsi-speaking friends find you bleeding out by the side of the road, with a mobile phone in your pocket filled with Mossad phone numbers, Hebrew e-mails, and details of a Swiss numbered account with cash transfers coming in from Tel Aviv. How do you think the Mahdi will like it when he finds out you’re the Israeli mole, that you’re the one who gave up Saddaji?”

“That’s a lie! I have never worked for the Jews, and I never would!”

“That’s not how it’s going to look, Tariq. Your cell phone is off right now. No one knows where you are. But they’re all looking, and when I turn it back on and download everything I just told you, they’re going to be here in less than ten minutes. You don’t think they’re going to wonder why your phone was off for the last hour or so?”

“Then kill me,” Khan insisted.

David smiled. “Nice try, Tariq. I have no intention of killing you. I’m going to let the Revolutionary Guard do that, after they’ve tortured you far worse than anything I could dream up. You’ll be begging them to believe that I work for the CIA, but all the evidence is going to prove to them you’re lying.”

“You wouldn’t do that,” Khan said, his flash of anger now giving way to fear. “I have a family. For Allah’s sake, I have children.”

“Two daughters, of course. And guess where they’re about to get their college tuition this semester? A bank in Haifa, that’s right. And imagine what Iranian intelligence is going to do when they realize the Israelis are taking care of your family.”

“Please don’t. Please. I beg you—kill me, but don’t do anything to my family.”

“I’m not doing anything to your family, Tariq. It’s your choice what happens from this point forward. I’m just saying in ten seconds you’re not going to have a second kneecap unless you start cooperating. It’s up to you.”

David took the silencer off the pistol, cocked the hammer, and started counting.

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six . . .

Without warning, he pulled the trigger, though aiming slightly to the side at the last moment. The explosion terri
fied Khan and seemed to shatter his already-frayed nerves. He began weeping and resumed begging David not to hurt him or his family.

“What do you want?” he cried. “Just tell me, what do you want?”

“How long have you been working on Iran’s nuclear weapons program?”

“On and off for six years.”

“What do you mean, ‘on and off’?”

“At the beginning, when the Iranians bought the plans from my uncle . . .”

“A. Q. Khan?”

“Right—when they bought them, my uncle sent me to Tehran and then to Bushehr, just for a few months to help them get organized. Then I went home and didn’t come back for a few years. Then, about five or six years ago, they asked me to come for a month at a time.”

“Who did?”

“Mohammed Saddaji.”

“How did you know him?”

“I didn’t. My uncle did. I first met him in Karachi, then in Tehran on that first trip, and we have worked closely together ever since. He was a hard man, but we got along well.”

“And then?”

“When Darazi became president, that’s when things really accelerated.”

“How so?”

“When you Americans went into Iraq, Hosseini got nervous. He decided not to pursue the Bomb, at least not for a while. But when Darazi came to power, they started talking more and more about the coming of the Mahdi. They started believing they had to build the Bomb to prepare the way for him to come.”

“Aren’t you Sunni?”


“Then you don’t believe in the Mahdi.”

“I didn’t, not when I first started coming here from Pakistan. I was just coming for the money—they pay very well—and because my uncle told me to.”

“But now?”

“What can I tell you? The Twelfth Imam is here.”

“So now you’re a Twelver?”

“I don’t know what I am. I’m just trying to get my work done well and on time.”

“Have you met Imam al-Mahdi?”

“No. They keep us away from anyone political. Actually, they keep us away from almost anyone.”

“When was the last time you saw your family?”

“I see them by Skype.”

“What about in person?”

“Two years.”

“Really? Why don’t you go visit them?”

“They won’t let me. They say it would be a security risk.”

“Why can’t your family come here to stay, or to visit at least?”

“That’s what I ask, but they say that’s a security risk too.”

“What if we get your family and bring them to the States?”

Khan had a startled look on his face. “Would you do that?”

“If you cooperate, absolutely.”


“Of course.”

“I could see my wife and my daughters?”

“They couldn’t ever go back to Pakistan, of course.”

“That’s okay. Just to have them with me. Just to hold them in my arms again. Is it really possible?”

“Yes,” David said. “Tell me where the warheads are, and I’ll get the ball rolling.”

Khan hesitated. David wanted to push him but restrained himself. The guy was talking. He just needed a few minutes. David reached into his coat pocket and found his phone and immediately patched back into the Global Ops Center at Langley. He said nothing, just let the team listen.

“You can’t ever go back—not to the missile base, not to Tehran, not to Pakistan,” David said gently. “You know that, right, Tariq? I’m never going to let that happen. And as we speak, I’m putting a new SIM card into your phone that is going to load all the Mossad material I told you about earlier.”

Tariq watched in wide-eyed horror as David reached into his jacket, tore a piece of the inner lining, and took out a SIM card that had been taped inside. Then he removed the SIM card in Tariq’s phone, put the new card in, and taped Tariq’s original SIM card back into the lining of his jacket.

“You are now officially a Mossad agent,” he smiled. “All that’s left is to turn it on.”

But Tariq would have none of it. The fear in his eyes told the story, and he began to talk.


Arak, Iran

Jalal Zandi tried to tell himself to calm down.

He walked the floor of the 120,000-square-foot missile-assembly facility in the middle of a poverty-stricken neighborhood on the periphery of the Iranian city of Arak—a facility most locals thought built construction cranes because, in fact, half of the massive plant did—and tried not to hyperventilate. Looking scared would only make him look guilty, and looking guilty right now would be a death sentence. Inside, uniformed IRGC were everywhere. Outside, plainclothes agents acted like factory workers, truck drivers, and maintenance men, but they were all armed and beyond paranoid. They knew what had happened to Saddaji. And they knew what had happened to the nuclear facilities built by Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad. They had all met the same fate, a fate none here was eager to share.

But telling oneself not to look scared or be scared hardly removed the fear, and Zandi was terrified. Hadn’t he given them everything they had asked of him so far? Hadn’t he done what he had promised? He hadn’t demanded or accepted much money, just enough not to feel like he was giving his valuable services away for free. After all, there weren’t a lot of people who did what he did or knew what he knew. All he’d ever wanted was peace of mind. He’d have done it for free, actually, if they’d asked him. All he’d wanted was not to be killed and for his family to be safe as well. It hadn’t seemed too much to ask. Until now.

He checked in with two shift supervisors and answered a few technical questions. He gave some instructions as they made final adjustments to the second of two Shahab-3 (or Meteor-3 or Shooting Star–3) ballistic missiles, an adaptation of the North Korean Nodong missile. The variant they were finishing was stronger and faster than its predecessors, with a speed of Mach 2.1 and an extended range just shy of 2,000 kilometers, or about 1,200 miles. Typically, the 2,200-pound warhead held five conventional “cluster warheads” that could break away from the missile upon reentry and hit five entirely different targets with standard explosives. But in this version, and in the others like it being finalized around the country, the standard nose cone holding the warhead was being retrofitted to hold a single nuclear warhead and all the electronics and avionics that went with it. They were using the Pakistani designs both for the nuclear warhead itself and for its attachment to the missile, the designs the Iranian regime had purchased from Tariq Khan’s uncle for a ghastly sum.

Now Dr. Saddaji was dead. Najjar Malik had defected. Khan was missing. Zandi feared for his life, but he wasn’t sure what to do next. He knew he was supposed to report any anomalies in the program up the chain of command. He had direct access, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to Mohsen Jazini, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, on his personal mobile phone and on his home phone. And Jazini had been clear that if there were ever an emergency and he couldn’t reach him, he should immediately contact Ali Faridzadeh, the minister of defense, whose personal mobile, home, and office numbers Zandi had been given as well. But calling either man terrified him. They were under enormous pressure from the Twelfth Imam to deliver completed, operational missiles and to get them into the field, ready to be fueled and launched as soon as possible. It had been a miracle to get the first two missiles ready for the navy, but those were entirely different kinds of missiles and far easier to complete.