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Under normal circumstances, the thirteen men and women seated in the conference room would have been dressed in formal attire, the men wearing crisp business suits, the women turned out in silk blouses and coordinating skirts. They would have struck up lively conversations, attempting to persuade their colleagues to accept one proposal or another, their animated faces reflecting off the room’s varnished chestnut paneling. But tonight, pulled away from their evening activities, they wore sports slacks and shirts, their hair wet and windblown, their faces grim as they sat quietly in their seats, eyes fixed on the man at the head of the U-shaped conference table.
Beads of rain clung to Levi Rosenfeld’s Windbreaker, left there by a spring storm that had settled over the Middle East, expending itself in unbridled fury, sheets of rain descending in cascading torrents. Prime Minister Rosenfeld, flanked by all twelve members of Israel’s National Security Council, fumed silently in his seat as he awaited details of an unprecedented threat to his country’s existence. He wondered how such critical information could have been discovered so late. At the far left of the conference table sat Barak Kogen, Israel’s intelligence minister. Although Kogen was not a member of the Security Council, Rosenfeld had directed him to attend tonight’s meeting to explain the Mossad’s failure.
At the front of the room, a man stood before a large flat-screen monitor. Thin and short, wearing round wire-rimmed glasses, Ehud Rabin’s physical presence failed to reflect the power he wielded as the leader of Israel’s second-strongest political party and as Israel’s defense minister. Ehud waited for Rosenfeld’s permission to begin.
Rosenfeld nodded in his direction.
Pushing his glasses onto the bridge of his nose, Ehud stated what everyone in the room already knew. “The Mossad reports Iran will complete assembly of its first nuclear weapon in ten days.” The lights in the conference room flickered, thunder rumbling in the distance as if on cue.
Rosenfeld looked at his intelligence minister. “Why did we discover this just now, only days before they complete assembly?”
Kogen shifted uncomfortably in his seat, his eyes scanning each member of the Security Council before coming to rest on Rosenfeld. “I apologize, Prime Minister. Nothing is more important than preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But Iran has deceived us and the rest of the world. We were fortunate to discover the true extent of their progress in time. We will be more vigilant in the future.”
There was something about Kogen’s quick apology rather than stout defense of his Mossad that gave Rosenfeld the impression he was hiding something. But perhaps the evening’s tension was clouding his intuition. He turned back to Ehud. “What are our options?”
Ehud pressed a remote control in his hand, stepping aside as the monitor flickered to life, displaying a map of Iran. “Weapon assembly is occurring at the Natanz nuclear complex.” A flashing red circle appeared two hundred kilometers south of Tehran. “Uranium for additional weapons is being enriched at Isfahan, and plutonium is being produced at their heavy-water plant near Arak.” Two more red circles appeared in central Iran. “Eliminating the facilities at Arak and Isfahan will be easy, but destruction of their weapon assembly complex at Natanz will be impossible with a conventional strike.” The map zoomed in on the Natanz facility, a sprawling collection of innocuous-looking buildings. “Iran has built a hardened complex beneath the Karkas mountains, connected to the main facility by tunnels. While a conventional strike will collapse the tunnels, it cannot destroy the weapon assembly complex.”
“So how do we destroy this facility?”
“Since the complex cannot be destroyed with conventional weapons, that leaves one option.”
Rosenfeld leaned forward in his chair. “What are you proposing?”
Ehud glared at the prime minister. “You know exactly what needs to be done here, Levi. We have a responsibility to protect the citizens of our country. There is no question this weapon will be used against us, either directly or indirectly. We must destroy this facility before Iran completes assembly of this bomb, even if that means we have to employ one of our nuclear weapons.”
The conference room erupted. Some council members passionately agreed with Ehud while others chastised him for proposing such an egregious break in policy. Rosenfeld slammed his fist on the table, silencing the room. “Out of the question! We will not use nuclear weapons unless they are used against us first.”
Ehud’s eyes narrowed. “Then millions of our people will die, because Iran will use this weapon against us. We can either strike now, before our men, women, and children are murdered, or afterward. If we do not strike first, their deaths will be on your conscience.”
The defense minister’s assertion hung in the air as Rosenfeld surveyed his council members, some of them staring back, others with their eyes to the table. Whether they agreed with Ehud or not, they could not avoid the underlying truth.
If Iran assembled this weapon, it would eventually be used against Israel. That was something Israel could not allow. But a nuclear first strike! Although the prime minister and his Security Council had the authority to authorize the use of nuclear weapons, morally …
Rosenfeld looked down one side of the conference table and then the other, examining the faces of the men and women seated around him, eventually returning his attention to Ehud. “Are there are no conventional weapons capable of destroying this complex? Not even in the American arsenal?”
Ehud’s lips drew thin. “The Americans have the necessary weapons. But they will not provide them to us while they engage in discussions with Iran.” Ehud’s voice dripped with disdain as he mentioned America’s attempt to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions with mere words.
“Do not discount our ally so easily,” Rosenfeld replied. “I will meet with the American ambassador tomorrow and explain the situation.”
“You are blind, Levi.” Ehud’s face tightened. “The Americans have abandoned us, and you fail to recognize it.”
“That’s enough, Ehud! Provide me with the information on the weapons we need, and I will broach this with the United States.”
Ehud nodded tersely.
Rosenfeld stood. “Unless there is more to discuss, I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
The council members filed out of the conference room, until only Rosenfeld and Kogen remained.
Turning to Rosenfeld, Kogen said, “Prime Minister, may I have a word with you, privately?”
“Of course. What would you like to discuss?”
“It’s best we not talk here.”
* * *
Footsteps echoed off the gray terrazzo floor as the two men, each lost in his own thoughts, walked down the Hall of Advisers toward Rosenfeld’s office. On their right, paintings of Israel’s prime ministers hung in shallow alcoves, beginning with the image of their country’s first premier, David Ben-Gurion, who guided Israel through its War of Independence. At the far end of the hallway, a conspicuous bare spot on the wall marked the location where Rosenfeld’s portrait would someday hang.
Glancing at the shorter and heavier man walking beside him, Kogen thought Rosenfeld had aged more than could be attributed to the normal passage of time. But that was easily explained. Shortly after his election six years ago, the prime minister had weathered a three-year intifada. Then there was the personal loss he had endured, compounded by his dual responsibilities as father and prime minister. Yet despite the toll of his years in office, the older man walked with a determined pace and slightly forward lean, as if barreling through unseen obstacles in his path. The brisk pace was his only exercise; workouts were always something to be scheduled in the not too distant future. As a result, he had steadily added padding to his midsection. But Kogen knew Rosenfeld considered his weight acceptable as long as the circumference of his waist remained smaller than the width of his shoulders. Fortunately, Rosenfeld had broad shoulders.
Kogen, on the other hand, had retained his youthful physique, lean and muscular. The taller man, always impeccably dressed, he projected an air of competence and confidence. To the uninformed, Kogen was the more ideal image of a prime minister. But his service had been limited to the military and Israel’s intelligence service; he’d been appointed intelligence minister shortly after Rosenfeld’s election as prime minister.
Reaching the end of the hallway, Rosenfeld and Kogen passed through a metal detector and into the Aquarium, the security guard’s eyes displaying no hint of curiosity about their arrival so late on a Monday evening. The Aquarium section of the PMO, the Prime Minister’s Office building, where foreign leaders visited their Israeli counterparts, contained a plush, well-appointed lobby, offices for Rosenfeld and his closest aides, and a communications center that allowed for minute-by-minute contact with the Israel Defense Forces. Kogen reflected on the many decisions Rosenfeld and previous prime ministers had made in that small room, guiding Israel through its turbulent history; decisions that paled in importance to the one that would be made tonight.
* * *
Following the prime minister into his office, Kogen sat stiffly in the chair across from Rosenfeld’s desk, scanning the content of the modestly furnished room as he collected his thoughts. The furniture was spartan and utilitarian, the desk and chairs made from natural unstained maple, unadorned with intricate carvings. The shelf behind Rosenfeld was filled with books arranged in no particular order. The office, with its indecipherable filing system and simple furnishings, reflected the prime minister perfectly—it was difficult to gauge his reaction to complex issues, yet straightforward once a decision was made. Although Kogen had known Rosenfeld his entire adult life, he could not predict his friend’s response. Rosenfeld’s decision would determine whether four years of painstaking preparation had been in vain.
Heavy drops of rain pelted the prime minister’s windows as Rosenfeld waited for Kogen to speak. As impatience gathered in Rosenfeld’s eyes, Kogen steeled himself. He cleared his throat, then began. “We must destroy Natanz, Levi. You know better than anyone the sacrifice we will endure as a nation if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons.”
Rosenfeld glanced at the framed portrait of his family, still sitting on his desk. “You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know, Barak.”
Lowering his voice, Kogen continued, “Iran is a cesspool of contempt for Israel, intent on exterminating our people. Natanz must be destroyed before this weapon is assembled. We do not have the necessary conventional weapons. Therefore it must be destroyed with a nuclear strike.”
There was a long silence as Rosenfeld contemplated Kogen’s assertion. Finally, Rosenfeld spoke. “I will not authorize the preemptive use of nuclear weapons. From a political and moral standpoint, that is something we cannot do.”
Kogen leaned back in his chair, a sly smile emerging on his lips. “I never said Israel would launch the nuclear strike.”
Rosenfeld blinked, not comprehending Kogen’s statement. “Then who?”
The younger man’s smile widened. “America.”
A puzzled expression worked its way across Rosenfeld’s face. “America? The president would never authorize this.”
Kogen hesitated a moment before continuing. It was finally time to reveal the Mossad’s most closely held secret. “The president’s authorization isn’t required, Prime Minister. Only yours. The Mossad stands ready to initiate an operation that will result in America destroying Natanz. Your authorization is the only step remaining.”
Rosenfeld stared at Kogen for a long moment, then his eyes went to the portrait of his family again. No one understood better what was at stake than Rosenfeld, and Kogen knew he was struggling. Iran didn’t have an army massed on Israel’s border. They didn’t have a nuclear arsenal in the process of being launched. Yet the threat Iran posed was severe. It had to be dealt with, and deceiving America into employing one of its nuclear weapons was the perfect solution.
It didn’t take long for Rosenfeld to come to a decision.
Frustration boiled inside Kogen. Still, he harbored hope Rosenfeld would eventually come to the proper decision. The Mossad plan was a radical proposal, and the prime minister would need time to accept it. After a few days of reflection, Rosenfeld would see the wisdom in Kogen’s solution.
Showing no outward sign of his frustration, Kogen stood. Before turning to leave, he said, “In ten days, Prime Minister, Iran will complete assembly of this weapon. You have until then to decide.”
Copyright © 2014 by Rick Campbell