North Central Lebanon
Sunday, November 15
10:30 p.m. Local Time
Major General Telnikov sat in the cramped work space of his command trailer and read the latest situational report. Developments over the last few days were ominous, as if each player in this high-stakes chess match were maneuvering into positions offering the greatest advantage. All appeared to be preparing for war to break out. Though the entire gambit was designated as a peacekeeping mission, practically everyone involved had some ulterior motive in participating with the Russians. That the Russians had a more grandiose purpose in descending upon Israel had not entered the thinking of its coalition partners. Telnikov guessed that few, even within the Kremlin’s hierarchy actually understood Polkov’s intent. The man was a master of intrigue.
Telnikov took note of the movement of the Iranians. When the UN Security Council had first given mission affirmation to the coalition, the Iranians had committed only two divisions of infantry and armor. Since then, at least six divisions, three being highly mechanized, were on the move. The Iranian President was reported to be commanding the lead column.
Telnikov would have considered that development odd except for the fact that all were aware that radical Islam had no boundaries when it came to insane acts. There was no doubt that Kazimi fit description of a madman and would act on the insanity—religious or otherwise.
Reconnaissance operatives reported that three of Iran’s columns had taken a southern track. Rather than traversing the Kurdish region of Iraq into Syria, they were now within a three day’s push of reaching the Jordanian border. Naturally, the Jordanians were crying foul. It had been their intention to station its forces alone on the eastern side of the Jordan River just outside of Israeli territory. Not technically a member of the coalition, the King of Jordan was at least willing to appear cooperative. They were still convinced that walking a narrow line of disaffiliation was the safest way to escape a possible holocaust. The guise of standing against Israel was being maintained, but backchannel communication with IDF command would assure the Israelis that Jordan had no intention of joining an actual attack. All in all, they felt they could survive through duplicity. But once again, Iran’s unpredictability was fouling everyone’s plans.
In Telnikov’s estimation, the Iranians were playing a game that was beyond their skill. Their advance looked to link them with elements of the Turkish Army just south of the destroyed city of Damascus. The map was clear. The intent was to hem the Russian 7th Division into a fixed position just north of the Lebanese border. The reason seemed rather obvious. In the eyes of radical Islam, the Russians were infidels just like the Jews and the Americans. Telnikov was convinced that Kazimi would attempt to rid the region of all non-believers.
With that thought in mind he scanned the reports relating to the southern front. The Sudanese were fully deployed in the Sinai Peninsula with a minimum of ninety-five thousand men in combat readiness. Though Sudan’s mechanized forces were lacking any real fire power they would serve as a sufficient distraction for the Israelis. Intel experts suggested that the steady stream of ships moving from the Port of Sudan and Massawa, Eritrea was delivering enough supplies to sustain an extended siege of the Holy Land. Sudan was submissively playing its part in the coalition.
Telnikov scratched the back of his head as he considered how the Israelis had exacerbated the situation by sinking a Turkish surveillance ship in the Mediterranean. Until that point, the Turks vibrato had only been a chest-thumping demonstration. But now the anger of the nation’s populace was overflowing. They wanted Israeli blood, and Turkey’s ideological move toward Iran gave evidence that they were willing to sidestep coalition responsibilities in order to attack Israel. Peace was certainly not at the forefront of anyone’s mind.
Uzbeki and Turkmenistani divisions were still several days from being on station, leaving the Russian 7th Airborne Division with the bulk of leadership responsibilities. That could prove impossible if Israel decided to take matters into its own hands and attack the Iranians. Then all hell would break loose.
If the Iranians really are attempting to cut the 7th away from its support divisions, how should I react? Telnikov thought to himself. After several moments of consideration Telnikov became resolute. He would not allow the Iranians to out flank and out maneuver him.
Nagging in the back of his mind was the strange vision he’d experienced while parachuting out of the back of his plane and into Lebanon. A massive, flaming sword had pointed at him and a voice had ordered him to bless the nation of Israel. The more it nagged at him the more he thought he was losing his mind. Perhaps the years of command, and all the stresses that came with it, were finally beginning to catch up with him. But long ago Telnikov had decided there was no such thing as coincidence. There had to be a connection between the dots, as weird as they were.
The sat/phone on his desk buzzed loudly, proclaiming an incoming call from someone higher up the food chain.
“Anatoly, we have news.” The voice of Field Marshal Velniak was curt. “The Israelis are at it again.”
“What now, Comrade?”
“The Turks must have decided to repay the Jews for their actions,” answered Velniak. “A flight of F-4 interceptors attacked a passenger jet belonging to the Israeli government. Two F-16s were on hand to respond. The Turks have lost another asset.”
“That means the Muslim element of the coalition has decided to make decisions on its own, am I correct, Sir?” Telnikov suggested.
“Da! Correct my friend. I am calling to update and advise you to be alert. The Prime Minister is unhappy with the way the plan of battle is developing.”
“I have guessed this from my end as well. Might you use your masterful authority to speed up the arrival of the 9th armored division to the port of Tripoli, Lebanon?” Telnikov petitioned. “I could use the increased firepower of those big guns.”
Something about the request must have irritated the Field Marshall. Telnikov could hear it in the tone of his response. “Da, da, Anatoly. It is done and you will have your guns. Make sure you are not caught with your boots off, understood?”
The connection was terminated before Telnikov could respond.
Ramat David Air Base
Same Time Local
Ty held Blake’s hand as they descended the narrow steps of the plane and onto the tarmac. Both suffered from shaky knees, the aftereffect of what had just happened in flight. Ty stole a quick glance at his wife in an attempt to gauge what she might be feeling. Neither had ever experienced that depth of panic. Her face told him nothing, but the tightness of her grip said she still had plenty of adrenaline flowing through her veins.
A short, serious man, dressed in khaki and toting a beret met them beside the plane. His hand extended as Ty approached.
“It is my pleasure to welcome you to Israel. My name is Colonel Natansky, Commander of Ramat David Air Base,” the colonel greeted the Americans. Though his accent was distinctive, Ty was pleased by his English. His grip was strong, and his eyes exuded authority. But he also had a curious glint. “We have been informed of your arrival, though the reason for such a visit has been withheld on a need-to-know basis. I assume it is to remain unspoken.”
The insinuation of a secret purpose behind their being in Israel surprised Ty, though as he thought about it, why would the Israeli government take such in interest in their transportation unless something deeper were going on behind the scene.
“Glad to meet you, Colonel. I think it’s wise to set our purpose aside for now,” Ty offered. “However, I was led to believe arrangements had been made for someone to meet us here, and then transport us into Haifa.
The Colonel pointed eastward into the clear, night sky. Two sets of bright landing lights were approaching the end of the runway. By the high pitched whine of the engines Ty could tell that two fighter jets were about to touch down. “Your escort is arriving now,” said the colonel. He then chuckled at the look of astonishment on Ty’s face.
Blake held tightly to Ty’s arm. “You never told me we’d be flying in a fighter jet.”
“Don’t think they’re for us, babe.”
The F-16’s touched down, rolled out to the nearest taxiway, and then made a beeline directly toward Ty and Blake. The fighter’s canopies began extending into the air almost simultaneously. The lead plane came to a stop not twenty feet in front of them. Ground crewmen poured out of a nearby bunker and prepared to service the jet. Everything turned into a bustle of activity. The second plane continued on toward the bunker where large doors were already opening to receive it.
The Americans watched with a sense of excitement as a crewman attached a ladder to the side of the F-16. They could see the pilot remove his helmet and flight gloves while the crewman unbuckled the harness that held him in the seat. The pilot then stood in the cockpit seat, threw a leg over the side, and quickly descended to the ground.
Ty felt the colonel touch his arm and nudge him toward the approaching pilot. “This is the man who has been waiting to receive you. He would have been here earlier, but he insisted on escorting your aircraft to the base. May I present Wing Commander, Captain Moshe Eldan.”
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