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Marseille lay back on her pillow and stared out at a full moon bathing Washington in its glow. She had to get her mind off David, or she’d never get to sleep. She would call the CIA first thing in the morning, she decided. In her quest to truly understand her father’s past, she would see if the name Jack Zalinsky was still in their system.
What she couldn’t know, what she could never have imagined, was that Jack Zalinsky and David Shirazi were sitting together in the same room at that very moment.
IranAir flight 001 from Mecca was late.
But when the Airbus jumbo jet finally touched down at Beirut International Airport, it was greeted by throngs of cheering crowds, a phalanx of Lebanese soldiers and policemen, and hundreds of local and international journalists, all covering the event live. Some commentators speculated the delayed arrival was meant to build drama. Whether that was true or not, TV ratings had certainly spiked throughout the Islamic world.
Though it was not clear where the rumor had started, it was widely anticipated that the Twelfth Imam would deliver a sermon or some extended remarks on or near the airport grounds. That, however, turned out not to be true. Aided by the security detail, Javad did his best to steer the Mahdi past the crowd of reporters and cameramen waiting for them on the tarmac. Javad was a small, wiry man, nervous by nature. But his chest puffed out considerably to be the right-hand man to the Lord of the Age, at the center of the spectacle. He glanced sideways at the Mahdi and found himself impressed all over again by the man’s charisma and authority. His dark eyes were full of intensity and plans.
But then, to everyone’s surprise, the Mahdi stopped in his tracks, paused for a moment, and turned to respond to a question from a French reporter.
“Your Excellency, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry has just confirmed that President Abdel Ramzy died in the attacks in New York yesterday,” the chief diplomatic correspondent from Agence France-Presse shouted. “Do you have any comment on this development and on the attempted assassinations of the American president and Israeli prime minister?”
“Sorry, no time for questions,” Javad said.
But the Mahdi ignored him and responded anyway. “Islam is moving across the earth. A new Caliphate is rising. This is mankind’s destiny. It is the will of Allah, and no mere mortal can stop it.”
“Are you saying you are happy about the death of the Egyptian leader?” the reporter followed up.
“We have come to the end of days,” the Mahdi replied. “The presidents and prime ministers and kings of the world are ignoble relics of an ancient, passing age. They do not concern themselves with the poor or the common man. Their societies are corrupt. Their debts are crushing. Their currencies are collapsing. Their armies are emasculated. Their evil systems are dying, and so they should. Only Islam can give us hope.”
“What message do you have for the people of Egypt?” an Al Jazeera reporter asked. “Hundreds of thousands are taking to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, and Aswân, cheering the death of President Ramzy. But now the army is moving against them, deploying tanks and armored personnel carriers.”
“Allah is our objective,” the Mahdi said. “The Prophet is our leader. Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”
“Does this mean you want to see the Egyptian people engage in jihad to join you, to join the new Caliphate you are constructing? Are you calling on the Muslim Brotherhood to rally to your cause?”
“If the Arab states and peoples had relied on Islam instead of relying on the Americans and the Zionists—if they had placed their eyes on the luminous and liberating teachings of the noble Qur’an, had memorized those teachings, embraced those teachings, and had practiced them with true conviction—they would not be slaves today. They would not be poor. They would not be beggars. They would not be shamed in the eyes of the ummah, the greater Islamic community. It is the great chasm between those who call themselves Muslims and the teachings of the Qur’an that has plunged so many millions of Arabs into this dark and catastrophic situation. It is time to awaken the people, to call them to a higher purpose, to show them a purer path.”
“Again, just to be clear,” the Al Jazeera reporter pressed, “are you calling the people of Egypt to join this new Caliphate?”
The Mahdi stood still for a moment and kept silent, a peaceful smile playing on his lips. He waited an extra beat, glancing at the crowds and cameras before fixing his eyes on the young reporter. “I am calling on all the countries of the world to join the Caliphate. This is why I have come. To liberate the oppressed peoples of the earth and lead them to a path of victory and unity. I have come to declare that Islam is the answer to all the world’s ills. Islam will bring you peace. Islam will bring you freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom to know Allah and to submit to his will. Not simply saying you’re a Muslim. Not simply going through the motions. Submission. This is the heart of the matter. Will you truly submit to the will of Allah? Will you live for him? Will you die in his service? The time has come for nothing less. Mine, therefore, will be no ordinary government. It will be a purely Islamic government. It will be based upon Sharia law. It will give honor and dignity to all who submit. But make no mistake: opposing this government means opposing the Sharia of Islam, and this cannot be tolerated. To revolt against Allah’s government is to revolt against Allah. And to revolt against Allah has its punishment in our law. And let there be no misunderstanding; it is a heavy punishment.”
“We still don’t know the fate of the American president,” a BBC reporter said, “but were you disappointed to learn that the Israeli prime minister escaped from the attack relatively unscathed?”
“The Zionist regime is heading toward annihilation, one way or the other.”
* * *
David had never met CIA director Roger Allen.
Not in person. Not even over the phone. But as he entered the director’s secure conference room on the seventh floor, where Tom Murray and Jack Zalinsky had arrived moments before, he immediately recognized the graying, somewhat aristocratic sixty-four-year-old former senior senator from Connecticut who had long served as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence before President Jackson had nominated him to run the Agency. Introductions were made quickly, and then David took a seat with Eva on one side and Zalinsky on the other.
“I want to begin with good news,” the director said. “The president is out of surgery and is in stable condition at George Washington University Hospital. I just talked to the First Lady and the president’s physician. They both say it looks like he’s going to be just fine.”
David breathed a sigh of relief, along with the others. He deeply disagreed with Jackson on policy matters, especially those related to the Middle East, but he just as deeply respected the office of the president and wished no personal ill toward his commander in chief. Just the opposite—he was willing to sacrifice his life, if necessary, to protect the president and the country.
“How’s he feeling?” Murray asked.
“It’s somewhat of a mixed bag,” Allen conceded. “The First Lady told me he is taking President Ramzy’s death hard, though obviously he’s very glad Prime Minister Naphtali is okay. As for himself, he suffered a combination of second- and third-degree burns. He also cracked a rib when the Secret Service agents tackled him. But on balance, he’s lucky to be alive.”
“And Agent Bruner?” Eva asked. “How is he doing?”
Allen lowered his eyes. “The White House isn’t ready to release that information to the public yet. They’re still looking for his wife, to inform her. But I’m afraid Mike passed away about thirty minutes ago. The president wants all of you to know that his number one priority is making sure another war doesn’t erupt in the Middle East,” Allen said. “He knows there will be all kinds of calls, especially from the Republicans on Capitol Hill, for retaliation, for reciprocity. But he wants us all to know our jobs are to keep cool heads, go about our work carefully and methodically, identify who was responsible, and develop options for him. But war, he stressed, is not one of them. Moreover, the president wants the Israelis to be kept on a tight leash. Naphtali is going to take this personally, and he’s going to be inclined to hit Iran. The president insisted we do everything in our power not to let that happen.”
David was stunned. Not go to war? What were they talking about? Of course they were going to war. Someone—probably the Iranians—had just tried to kill the American president and the leaders of the nation’s two key allies in the region. They needed to hit somebody, hard and relentlessly.
“Sir, with all due respect, dozens of Americans have just died in the worst terrorist attack on American soil since this president took office,” David said. “How can the Agency—and the entire US government, for that matter—not be going into war-planning mode?”
“Agent Shirazi, that’s out of line,” Murray said.
“No, no, that’s all right,” the director said. “Look, David, I understand your point. But we don’t make policy here. We follow the orders of the commander in chief. And our orders are to stop the next war.”
“Director Allen,” David replied, “if we don’t move fast and hard, the next war just might wind up with mushroom clouds over New York, Washington, and Tel Aviv. This fire is already burning. It is spreading rapidly. Everyone in this room feels terrible about the attacks that happened today in New York. But what’s coming is ten thousand times worse if we don’t use this moment to hit Iran’s nuclear weapons program with everything we have.”
“We haven’t confirmed who is responsible for the attack in New York,” the director said.
David was incredulous. “Does it matter? Sir, this was a decapitation strike, designed to cut off the heads of the only three countries on the planet with the will to stop both the mullahs in Tehran and now the Twelfth Imam from building their Caliphate and annihilating Judeo-Christian civilization forever. Of course we should go after the specific terrorist cells responsible for this attack when we find them. But we don’t need to wait to hit Iran. We already know Iran has tested nuclear weapons. And the fact is, if we don’t hit the Iranians in the next few days, we may never have the chance again.”
Tom Murray was livid. “David, that’s enough,” he said, barely able to keep his voice down. “You weren’t invited into this room to lecture the director of the Central Intelligence Agency or try to goad him or the president into a war with Iran—or with anyone else, for that matter.”
“Tom, we’re already at war,” David said. “The president authorized this Age
ncy to use all means necessary to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Now they have at least eight, after their test. Doesn’t the same national security directive not only authorize but command us—those of us in this room—to find those weapons and the people who built them and neutralize them before it is too late?”
Jacques Miroux was Reuters’s chief Mideast correspondent.
“Your Excellency, on Thursday in Mecca, you said, ‘We seek only peace. We wish no harm against any nation,’” Miroux shouted. “But you also said Iran now has nuclear warheads, of which you have full control. Just now you spoke of the annihilation of Israel, saying it is coming and implying that it is inevitable. A moment ago you spoke of jihad as your goal. Is it your intent to threaten a thermonuclear war against the Jewish state?”
“I bring a message of peace. That is my message, and that is all. To those who want peace, I welcome you with open arms.”
“Well, at the very least, Your Excellency,” Miroux followed up, “are statements like these provoking the Israelis into what could be a massive first strike on their part?”
“Islam cannot be defeated. Period. Islam will be victorious in all the countries of the world. The teachings of the Qur’an will prevail all over the world. Even in Palestine. Especially in Palestine and the holy city of al-Quds. Why should a lion fear the mosquito, so tiny, so annoying, but so inconsequential?”
With that, the Mahdi flashed a smile and turned to wave to the masses. Then Javad guided him into a white armored SUV for the brief drive north from the airport to the Camille Chamoun Sports City Stadium, where an estimated 160,000 Hezbollah members were eagerly awaiting the Twelfth Imam’s address in a facility built for a third that number, at best.
* * *
David could feel the tension in the room spiking.
But he didn’t care. Their country had been attacked. The president was too weak to respond. The director of central intelligence was covering his behind. Someone had to speak up. Why wasn’t Murray? Why wasn’t Zalinsky?
“Director Allen, may I speak?” Eva suddenly asked.
“Of course, Eva; what is it?”
“Well, sir, I’ve known Agent Shirazi for some time now. You know full well that Jack and I worked together to design his cover story. We worked hard behind the scenes to get him hired at Munich Digital Systems along with me, working undercover. We designed and oversaw his operations in Pakistan. And Jack and I designed this mission for him in Iran and are running it together. You know that I’ve traveled into Iran with David, and you know that if it wasn’t for him, the entire operation would have been blown the first day.”
“Your point, Agent Fischer?”
“My point, sir, is that I know the extraordinary risks David is taking. Every moment of every day that he was inside Iran, he was putting his life on the line for his country, for this Agency, for each one of us. Because he believes in this stuff. His family wouldn’t be here in the US, or probably even alive, if it weren’t for this Agency, and for Jack in particular. So this is very real and very personal for him. David takes his job very seriously, and I am absolutely amazed by how well he’s doing it. My expectations were quite high from the beginning, but they’ve been blown away. And I’d submit that none of us—not a single one of us—could be doing what he’s doing. He’s gotten us inside Esfahani’s operations. He’s gotten us inside the defense minister’s office. Inside the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Inside the Supreme Leader’s office . . . and quite possibly inside the inner circle of the Twelfth Imam. He found us Dr. Najjar Malik and got him out alive. He got us Dr. Saddaji’s computer and all his backup discs—intact. And much of what we know about how serious this situation is, we know because of what David has done. It wasn’t his plan. I grant you that. It was Jack’s plan and mine. He’s made some mistakes. But so have we. David isn’t an experienced strategist yet, but in my view he’s an unbelievable tactical operator . . . and the best shot we have right now to get back inside Iran and stop this nuclear program while we still have time. But we can’t send him back in—and that’s our plan, is it not? That’s what we’re about to do, right?—well, we can’t send him inside and ask him to risk his life day after day unless he has a reasonable expectation that his country and this Agency are going to back him up every step of the way. Director, my point is this: if the president isn’t serious about having us execute his own national security directive, then you need to tell us that right now so we can readjust our goals and retask our team, and that would start with not sending David back in.”
The room was silent. Murray fumed. Zalinsky maintained a poker face. David was about to speak for himself, but the director cut him off.
“Agent Fischer, I appreciate enormously what you and your colleagues have done, including Agent Shirazi. You all have this Agency’s highest thanks, and particularly mine. I know the risks you’re all taking, and I assure you that I don’t take those lightly. What’s more, I can promise you that if I make the decision to ask any of you to put his or her life at risk, you will be fully backed by all the resources at this Agency’s disposal.”
Allen let that sink in for a moment.
“That said,” he continued, “perhaps it’s a little premature to talk about sending anyone to Iran at the moment. There are a range of questions we need to answer first. Starting with this one: was Iran’s nuclear weapons test near Hamadan successful, and if so, how are we defining success? The answers make a big impact on how we proceed. The president is asking specifically about this. What do we know so far?”
“Well, sir, from everything we can gather,” Murray replied, “from the magnitude of the blast as determined by the Richter scale measurements of the earthquake the blast triggered, the damage that earthquake did, and the readings from the Constant Phoenix flight over Hamadan, the guys in the analysis division are judging the test successful. They believe the warhead is likely based on the Pakistani designs sold to Iran by A. Q. Khan.”
“Weren’t they tinkering with North Korean designs as well?” the director asked.
“They were, but based on a bunch of technical readouts I won’t bore you with now, the analysis guys say the warhead they tested was the Pakistani version,” Murray explained. “Now, by successful, what they mean is that they believe the bomb was built properly, detonated as expected, and had a two-hundred-kiloton yield. We’re not talking about a suitcase nuke here. That’s a pretty hefty warhead. If it was detonated in the center of Tel Aviv or London or Manhattan or here in DC, it would completely obliterate every structure within a mile radius of the blast. It would destroy most civilian buildings and kill every person within about three miles. It would also set every structure on fire another mile after that, and anyone within five to ten miles—possibly more, depending on the prevailing winds and other factors at the time—would receive massive radiation doses. Many of them would die within days or weeks.”