10:00 AM – DOWNTOWN APARTMENT, TEL AVIV, ISRAEL
"Jack? Get up!" Jack Bauer hadn't found it so hard to get up in ages as he heard a voice call out his name. He had definitely had too many shots of Jim Beam and Southern Comfort the night before. He jolted awake though as he felt a poke in his stomach. He quickly came to his senses as he got up from the couch.
"Wow you're ticklish aren't you there? Looks like you slept well! We got about an hour before we have to go."
Jack quickly came back to his senses as his headache subsided ever so slightly. The clock on the TV read 10:01 AM and the entire apartment was basked in rays of light from the mid-morning sun. That was quite a night last night, now back to reality. Rachel Friedman stood over him with a towel wrapped around her body, her hair still wet. "I'm almost done getting ready now. You can shower now while I fix us some breakfast." Jack watched her walk to the kitchen, his mind becoming more focused now than ever as he thought of the weeks and months ahead. He was in a good place in his life right now, and it's certainly been a long time since he felt this way.
HAMAS SAFE HOUSE, JAFFA NEIGHBORHOOD
The Hamas safe house was located in a dingy industrial neighborhood in Tel Aviv's Arab district. Nakkash Bin Rahal stepped into the middle of the large, sprawling warehouse from his office. There were two trucks rented from an Israeli moving company parked in the middle of the facility, in addition to several large crates unloaded from the Jordanian diplomatic shipment that had made an unscheduled diversion to Tel Aviv before continuing onto the Port of Ashdod in southern Israel and sending the actual humanitarian part of the cargo onto a freighter bound for Africa. Gathered throughout the warehouse were more than fifty of Hamas's most experienced fighters who have waged war against the Israelis and other Palestinian factions for years. Each and every man had sworn his willingness to martyr himself for Allah. The warehouse was also stacked with an entire arsenal of rocket launchers, anti-tank missiles, armor piercing rounds, claymore and C4 explosives, and hand grenades. Diplomatic immunity is certainly great, Nakkash thought to himself. Of course King Hussein, the apostate Western puppet, would be outraged that his subordinates with diplomatic credentials would so brazenly support an internationally recognized terrorist organization. But he was losing control of his nation. The forces of jihad were unstoppable, and after this day was over, it wouldn't matter what King Hussein or any other American-friendly regime thought anyway.
"Malik, are you and Bilal ready?" Nakkash asked two from his inner circle. Both Malik and Bilal were devout Muslims with thick beards and green kaffiyehs around their heads with Koranic verses and Palestinian slogans inscripted in Arabic.
"Yes, emir," Malik replied. "Your source in the Israeli government is reliable. I just received word from Osama in the target neighborhood. All the IDF deployments in the Tel Aviv area are as usual. They will never see this coming."
Nakkash smiled. "Our other teams are also standing by and awaiting my orders."
"What about Mahmoud?" Bilal inquired. "Everything is fine on his end? I haven't heard from him since we arrived here."
"Yes, mujahid," Nakkash replied, patting him on his shoulder. "Mahmoud has gone dark just as we have, but I assure you it will not be for long. But remember, this phase of the operation must succeed before he can begin his tasks."
Bilal nodded. "Bismillah. Allah be praised."
Nakkash beamed proudly as his men prepared the weapons and got ready to board the two trucks. He never thought this day would really come. A year ago he and his men were scurrying around the tunnels and alleyways of Gaza like rats. Now he had an entire army deep in the heart of Israel, ready to strike a devastating blow that would bring their enemy to its knees, and then some. I am the sword of Allah, the vengeance of Islam, Nakkash thought to himself. The days of hiding from Israeli airstrikes and Mossad and CIA hit teams was over. Today, Nakkash and his holy warriors would charge in the name of the Koran, and strike terror deep into the heart of the infidels. The day of reckoning was at hand.
10:15 – DOWNTOWN APARTMENT
Jack's head cleared and he reflected back on the night before as he showered and shaved. Yes that was too much alcohol, but it was the best night he'd had in years. In fact, the past few weeks was probably some of the most satisfying he had known ever since his mother passed away. He thought back to the long slow dance to the country ballad he had never heard before, to that romantic dinner after the movie, and to that quiet afternoon on that beachside cliff, staring out at the ships far out on the horizon and enjoying a nice lunch under the sun. It had taken him several years and a trip to a foreign land, but Jack had finally found a woman he truly felt a connection to. He didn't even believe his rebellious spirit could ever be tamed, but it might well be happening. And with Rachel's plans to go to school in America, maybe this could all work out.
A familiar comforting aroma greeted Jack as he finished putting on his clothes, some cammo pants and an Army t-shirt. He also had a light jacket just in case it was still cold outside. He was surprised how chilly this place could still get in December. Rachel was already in her olive green IDF uniform as she scooped the food off the frying pan and into a plate for him. She had prepared a traditional American breakfast with scrambled eggs with cheese, home fries, biscuits, bacon strips and a sausage patty. "Just in case you're homesick," she said.
"You never cease to impress me, Rachel. Hell, this is better than Denny's," Jack told her as they sat down at the dining table next to the floor to ceiling window. The window offered a view of the glass and steel Azrieli Center, a collection of modern downtown office blocks that's become a Tel Aviv landmark, and the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea in the far distance. Jack began eating. "You can obviously do the non-kosher stuff too. Much better than the mess hall crap. Learn this in Maryland?"
"Partly, plus that famous cookbook called Google," she replied with a grin and a cute wink in his direction.
Jack smiled and thought about the conversation he would have with his father. Okay, he was interested in giving BXJ Technologies a try when he returned to the U.S. His dad might not like him getting a position in Maryland, West Virginia, or North Carolina but he would be happier than if Jack continued his refusal to consider BXJ at all. If Rachel wasn't ambitious or hard driven enough for Philip Bauer, though, that was just too damn bad.
"Rachel," Jack finally said as they finished eating and sipped on their orange juice, "I've been thinking a lot about the last couple weeks, about last night especially. I need to be open about this. You may not believe me, but I've never met anyone like you before. You…." He looked at the sunlight dancing across her face giving those green eyes a sparkle. She also looked fit and healthy in that uniform she was wearing. "You've taught me so much about life, helped me discover things about myself I didn't even know. Even given me a new perspective on life. I've been thinking a lot about us, what we have going on here, and I want us to be serious about it." Part of Jack was afraid there would be some hesitancy on her part but she just smiled and kissed him again.
"Rachel, I'm falling in love with you." He finally said. She didn't say anything but just sensually massaged his neck as they leaned into one another.
"Jack…..I…..when I picked you up that day, I never expected any of this. I didn't even think I'd see you again. Jack I'm falling in love with you too. I am in love…."
Before she could finish, there was a loud, thundering blast and the entire building shook on its foundations. The large glass windows shattered in a hundred pieces. On instinct, Jack shoved Rachel to the ground and covered her body with his own as shards of glass rained down on the floor all around them. There was a secondary boom further away and the sound of car alarms and the screams of people filled the air, audible even 15 floors above. Both were in shock for several long seconds, then they smelled the acrid black smoke that was rising into the sky in two plumes.
Jack and Rachel carefully went to another shattered window and looked down. The two explosions had taken place within a half mile of the apartment building. A few blocks away to the east, flames were spreading out of control from a popular coffee shop and street café. Dozens of dead and dismembered bodies were scattered across an entire intersection. Panicking civilians ran around screaming for help as several survivors walked around aimlessly in shock. A little to the west, they saw that another explosion had completely destroyed a public bus which would have been packed at this hour, plus several cars. The explosives used were obviously much stronger than the ones traditionally used in Palestinian suicide bombings. The blast radius was at least a hundred feet and buildings on the entire block was damaged. Workers poured out of the businesses and offices around the blast site.
10:25 AM – TEL AVIV BEACHFRONT
The next attack took place within minutes. A Hamas suicide bomber drove his motorcycle rapidly through downtown's modern streets, emerging on Tel Aviv's beachfront. The promenade was filled with civilians from all walks of life. Retired people, off duty soldiers, local residents, and foreign tourists all liked to frequent the beach even in December. The shaheed looked up and down the promenade and saw where a large crowd had gathered to watch some street musicians at a pavilion playing some jazz music. Nobody paid attention to him as he made a right turn onto the oceanfront boulevard. He wore Western clothing and his Arab features were hidden by his black motorcycle helmet. He wore a jacket, which would have drawn attention in a warmer time of year, but was this was December and some people were more sensitive to the weather than others.
Without warning, the jihadi turned his bike out of the traffic lanes and into the crowd, screaming his Islamic declaration of faith as he detonated his suicide vest and the explosives on his bike at once. Nakkash's bombmakers had packed this bomb with ball bearings that spread out in all directions, the devastation spreading across the crowd like a hail of bullets. Men, women, and children fell dead and dying in bloody heaps as a wall of flame followed, swallowing up the entire pavilion. As the paramedics arrived on scene, they would also discover that the bomb contained anticoagulant compounds to make sure many of the wounded bled out. The wave of ball bearings spread across the wide boulevard, adding people in a commercial gym and doctors office across the street to the list of casualties.
RAMAT AVIV MALL, TEL AVIV
The Nissan Pathfinder had been driven from the safe house the day before and parked overnight at a public garage. The driver checked the time on his cell phone and did the speed limit as he drove down Einstein Street toward the Ramat Aviv Mall, one of the city's largest. Attached to the mall was a high-rise office building housing thousands of workers. The driver smiled as he received text messages confirming the successful attacks at the beach and downtown. We love death the way you love life, a Hamas spokesman had once declared publicly. The driver agreed as the thoughts of being in paradise with his brothers filled his mind. The 16 year old from the Gazan town of Rafah floored the accelerator, the Pathfinder racing across the plaza in front of the Ramat Gan mall, heading for the entrance by the food court. He would tear a path of destruction through the mall and then bring down the office building.
Fortunately for the occupants of the tower, however, there was a group of four off-duty IDF soldiers leaving an electronics store near the mall entrance who saw the vehicle speeding toward the building. Their radios had already gone crazy with reports of the other suicide attacks that had rocked Tel Aviv within the last half hour. The Israeli soldiers quickly turned their M-16 assault rifles and opened fire on the Pathfinder, aiming at both the tires and at the driver. Several rounds of gunfire tore into the driver's body but he hardly felt anything in all his adrenaline and exhilaration. The front wheels were destroyed and shot out but vehicle still went forward, crashing into the food court. The soldiers raced after it, firing on it from the back and another round went through the driver's back. Knowing he wouldn't make it all the way to the center of the structure, the terrorist detonated the vehicle early. More than forty people were killed in the mall and several in the tower above from smoke inhalation, but at least the building remained standing.
Rachel dialed her cell phone frantically as she drove her Ford Focus northbound on the Ayalon Highway with Jack in the passenger seat, heading toward Tel Aviv's northern suburbs, where Ariel Sharon High School was located. She had checked in with her commanding officer who only had sketchy reports on what exactly had happened. There were emergency calls all over the city. All he was able to tell her was that Ben Gurion Airport was safe, that the Iron Dome interceptors had been activated to protect the terminal buildings from any aerial threat and that the military forces currently on duty there could lock down the airport on a moment's notice. Her orders were to continue as planned to Sharon High.
The American Birthright group would also still be joining them too. If anything, they would be safer outside of downtown anyway, and the rest of their day's itinerary would take them further north to the Sea of Galilee. The thinking also went, especially on a day like this, some extra soldiers at the school would give the students and parents more ease of mind. Jack was completely shocked at the decisions coming down the Israeli chain of command. If something like this happened in America, all schools in the area would be closed or at least on lockdown but in Israel, life just went on. It seemed here, terrorist attacks were just part of life itself, like car accidents and break-ins in Los Angeles. Jack had never felt so scared in his life. He had trained for combat and been stationed in Saudi Arabia and Qatar but never seen anything like this. He felt the blast from the twin suicide bombings that had taken place mere blocks from Rachel's apartment building. He looked at Rachel as she spoke frantically into her phone in Hebrew, telling her family she was okay and to stay home if possible and avoid the city. That was a close call. We'll get through this, we'll both be in America soon and never have to deal with this again.
11:15 AM – ARIEL SHARON HIGH SCHOOL, NORTHERN SUBURBS OF TEL AVIV
Ariel Sharon High School, with a student body of 1500, was one of the newest and largest high schools in Israel. Construction finished about three years ago and despite opposition from the leftist parties, it was named after the recently deceased past Prime Minister of Israel. It was located in an upper middle class neighborhood, suburban by local standards, but still much more densely populated than the average American suburb. The single family homes had small yards, and many residents in the area still lived in apartments and townhouses. That was another thing that was so great and special about the U.S., Jack thought. Here and in the European and Middle Eastern countries he'd been to, most people still couldn't afford the good life of suburban and rural America.
"Hey, you okay?" Jack asked Rachel as they pulled into the parking lot. "Glad your family's fine."
Rachel was clearly shaken up by what had happened. "That was a close call," she admitted, "So close to where I live. I'm afraid to watch the news and discovering how many were killed." A few tears fell from her eyes Jack gave her a comforting hug and gently wiped her tears away with a napkin.
"I'm here, okay, Rachel? It's going to be okay. You just do what you gotta do here, focus on these kids and the tour group. I would be lying if I said I wasn't also shaken up, but I'm right here for you." Despite Rachel's uniform and assault rifle, she was not a combat soldier. She had basic training like all IDF soldiers did, but it was nothing like what Christopher Henderson had put Jack and his men through.
She nodded and held his hand tight. "You don't know how glad I am that you're here. Plus those Americans are probably freaking out, if we act scared they'll just panic more. They just started sending these Birthright groups again and this happens."
Minutes after they checked in with the two soldiers at the main office, they saw the motorcoach with the American citizens pull up onto the expansive grounds of the high school, driving up the long driveway that led from the residential streets beyond. Jack and Rachel met the American college kids that got off the bus. They were surprisingly calm given the circumstances. Then it occurred to Jack and Rachel that news of the terrorist attacks have only started to break in the media and the full scale wasn't known. Many probably thought it was one of those "minor" attacks with ten or fewer casualties. No that any attack was acceptable, but everything was relative in Israel.
Rachel introduced herself and Jack, and indeed many of the students were surprised to see an American with her. Not wanting them to panic, Rachel reassured them that the authorities had everything in control and that the crisis was over according to the best of their knowledge. She knew that in reality, knowledge was still sketchy, but this was a safe suburban community and not a major terrorist target. Here in the northern suburbs of Tel Aviv the main threat came from Hamas's Iranian-supplied rockets. It was only a few minutes before this group would see the IDF presentation along with half the student body of Sharon High. Then they would have lunch with the Israeli high school kids and be on their way to Galilee.
11:30 AM – GIVITAYIM NEIGHBORHOOD / NORTHERN SUBURBS
"Unfortunately the tower at Ramat Aviv is still standing despite the damage. They say there were IDF soldiers there who opened fire on on martyr," Nakkash said into the phone to his man Osama, who was sitting in a station wagon parked along a commercial side street in the Givitayim neighborhood where the military base was located in. Osama had two more terrorists with him in the back, pretending to take a nap. "You and Aziz are still in position?"
"Yes, emir," Osama replied. "My team and Aziz's are on opposite sides of the base, we will attack simultaneously and inflict maximum casualties before we martyr ourselves."
Nakkash checked his PDA, where Timur Sokolow from the Defense Ministry had sent him a full live map of the Israeli military deployments in the Tel Aviv area. He moved his fingers along the touch screen. The military forces were now heavily concentrated in central Tel Aviv where most of the devastating suicide attacks have taken place. Nakkash himself was dressed in the uniform of the Israeli moving company that owned the trucks, and with the military and police's hands tied with the suicide bombings, they paid no attention to two moving vans in a suburban neighborhood. Many of the forces that were normally stationed here were already recalled to the city.
Nakkash rechecked the GPS coordinates and combined it with the map of IDF units. He also had access to radios, and his Israeli Arab recruit, Khattab, translated the Hebrew voices into Arabic for him. The route to Ariel Sharon High School was wide open.