SWIMMING POOL AREA
Henderson was the first man leaving the locker door, emerging into the brightly-lit indoor pool area. He cursed the school for building an indoor facility even in the hot Mediterranean climate. Unlike an outdoor swimming pool, the indoor facility allowed for many overhangs and bleacher areas and access routes overlooking the pool where hostiles could attack from elevated positions. They needed to get the wounded man out as soon as possible. He was followed by Darius and Lance who scanned the area with their weapons.
"Bauer, Friedman, head here now, do you copy?"
"We copy," Jack replies into the cell phone.
Henderson checked with Wasser to make sure that the IDF team underneath the pool was clearing the way into the underground sewers and storm drains so that there would be no complications.
"I want all these entry points covered!" Henderson ordered his men. "Shoot any bastard that comes in. Bauer and Friedman will confirm because entering this area."
HIGH SCHOOL ROOFTOPS
Jack was greeted by a hail of gunfire as he stepped onto the ledge outside the second floor classroom. He flipped over onto the ground and fired back at two terrorists firing from higher up. One of them was Malik, who reloaded and squeezed off another few rounds.
Rachel slid out from under the window and fired a shot upward. The bullet went through a terrorist's chin and exited through his skull, sending him slumping onto the roof. She fired again but Malik had ducked away. Jack let out a stream of bullets that pocketed the walls and he saw two more terrorists coming from the roof.
"We need to make a dash for it!" Jack called out to Rachel.
"How wide is the gap?" she asks him in a concerned tone.
"Three feet, you can make it!" Jack replies. "We gotta get to the extraction point. Henderson and his men are there already. You're holding up great, you can do this! I have a good visual of the area from here. I'll make sure you're clear!"
Jack ran and leapt over the ledge as Malik opened fire again. As he did go, Rachel stepped backward quickly looking up and seeing a Hamas terrorist take aim. With perfect aim, Rachel fired more shots that went into the man's chest, sending him flying off the third floor rooftop screaming. If the gunshot wounds weren't fatal, the impact with the cement ground below certainly was. Rachel ran as fast as she could, forcing herself to pretend it was just that long jump when she was on her high school's track and field team two years ago. She did find Jack reassuring, and took comfort in knowing that he was as good at protecting her as he had promised. Thank God for Jack being here, Rachel thought to herself.
As she sailed over the gap, Jack provided cover fire, shooting down another terrorist who had appeared on the roof. He then saw Malik reloading again. When Malik whirled back around, Jack opened fire, shooting Malik through the throat sending blood spurting out like water from a broken pipe. This got the attention of the other jihadists around him and Jack and Rachel were able to get to temporary safety behind an air conditioning unit right above the locker room.
Jack then fired through the locks of a service door, going down a flight of stairs that took them to a hallway that circled the pool area. He heard more shouting in Arabic as Rachel covered him, seeing no hostiles yet.
"Sir, I'm in the hallway above your position," Jack said to Henderson.
"Roger, we're moving out now…shit!"
"Excuse me, sir?" Jack asked.
"We have hostiles coming from three directions, we're compromised. We need to move now!"
SWIMMING POOL AREA
Several doors burst open at once as the first wave of jihadis entered the pool area. Darius squeezed off two rounds with his M4 Carbine assault rifle, the bullets tearing through two charging jihadis, sending them sprawling onto the ground.
It didn't take Jack long to realize that he wasn't going to make it. There were too many hostiles converging and there would be nobody to provide cover fire for him. He heard a scream below as an American soldier was shot through the back, the Arabs laughing in glee as they continued to fire.
"Get up, Santos!" Henderson yelled at the fallen soldier as they return fire, causing the terrorists to duck temporarily. However another set of hostiles appeared on the opposite site of the pool. Santos, the fallen soldier, was nonresponsive. Darius checked his pulse and there was none. "Shit!"
"Sir, I think we should get the wounded out first, I won't be able to make it! I can take care of myself, we both know that."
Henderson was about to argue but knew Jack was right.
"We also need to get Private Friedman out of here!" Jack shouted through the gunfire. Jack squeezed off another round and took down one of the Arabs coming through the locker rooms. More Arabs emerged on the deck as Darius and Lance pulled the wounded soldier into the pool and swam toward the bottom.
"They're in the water!" a terrorist shouted in Arabic. "Yallah! Yallah!" He then pulled out his radio, calling for more backup but Rachel fired a bullet into his brain, cutting him off in mid-sentence.
"Rachel, you're going with them. We don't have much time," Jack said.
She shook her head. "We're in this together, Jack. There's no way in hell I'm just going to let these people kill you." She pulled Jack aside roughly as bullets hit the spot where Jack had just been standing. They were almost surrounded on three sides now. Rachel took her Uzi and provided cover fire for Jack as he reloaded and also for the Americans retreating through the pool. She fired nonstop for at least ten seconds, mowing down three of the Muslims that had just emerged on the pool deck, sending two of them falling into the pool and the other flying backward into the swim coach's office, shattering the glass separation between it and the pool deck.
"Dammit, Rachel, don't argue with me!" Jack insisted. "I promised to keep you safe and I'm keeping my word. You need to extract with Captain Henderson and the rest of the team."
"No Jack! You said we're both getting out of this together!" Rachel shot back. "I won't be able to live with myself if we leave you here all by yourself and something happens to you!"
Everything seemed to pass by in slow motion for Rachel despite the shouts and flying bullets. She saw Jack aim again as muzzle flashes surrounded them on all sides. Below, the wounded American was pulled into the drainage system, emerging in the sewers below the pool. Rachel felt like she was in a dream, a nightmare that she just couldn't wake up from. There was no way this was really happening, her mind was telling her, but her senses reminded her that it was. And there was Jack Bauer next to her, doing everything he could to protect her and his brothers in arms trying to get through the pool. Rachel wasn't a particularly religious person despite growing up in the Jewish state. She rarely went to the synagogue aside from the major Jewish holidays but she told herself that God must be watching over them. That was the only explanation as to why they've made it this far when the original school security force and the rescue team had all been completely massacred.
Without warning, there was an underwater explosion at the far end of the pool as a bazooka detonated inside, the terrorist trying to aim for the underwater egress route. Another American fell wounded.
"So much for a simple amphibious extract," Henderson said. "You need to lay low until we come back, Bauer!"
"Sir, I have a plan. I can do what I can to keep them off balance while you regroup."
"And how the hell do you plan to do that?"
"I do speak Arabic, remember?" Jack said. "I got this, I promise. Sir you need to get down there now so we can find some cover."
Henderson and the last Americans disappeared under the surface of the pool. Jack and Rachel quickly took cover in the bleachers as the terrorists discharged dozens of rounds in their direction. A bullet went through Rachel's hair, sending a few strands flying toward Jack but he didn't alert her since they certainly wouldn't do either of them any good.
"I got the left side," Jack told Rachel. "Listen to the gaps in gunfire in each direction. You got shooters at your 4 o'clock and 5 o'clock positions near the scoreboards that must be taken out before we have a clear path out of here. I have this side."
She nodded. The gunfire from the two positions Jack mentioned died down for just two seconds as the terrorists made silent hand gestures to one another about where to aim next, but that was enough time for Rachel to emerge from the safety of the bleachers and shoot down one of the men. The other terrorist was alert but Rachel smartly rolled down a few levels on the bleachers and by the time the terrorist knew where she was his chamber was empty. The hostile fumbled with his gun a little but Rachel shot him through the chest twice from more than fifty feet away.
"Alright, let's make a run for it!" Jack said, Rachel following his lead as they rushed up the bleachers amid yet more shouting coming.
"In the name of Allah!" they suddenly heard as a terrorist popped up from nearby in the bleachers and screamed, firing wildly. Jack mentally estimated his path of motion and cut him down with a string of bullets, blood squirting in a trail behind him as he fell forward screaming and dying. One more terrorist appeared at the top of the bleachers and Jack dropped him with a quick burst from his Carbine.
Jack took down two more men in a matter of seconds and retreated into a hallway leading away from the pool. Rachel took down one more Arab before they left the pool area.
After a while there was a deafening silence. Rachel opened the door to the coaching staff offices in an area of the building that also housed the weight room and fitness center. "It's clear," she said, going in first and Jack following.
Jack motioned for her to stay silent as footsteps and Arabic shouting could be heard down the hall. A terrorist kicked open the door and sprayed the room with gunfire, shattering all the mirrors on the falls and demolishing two weight machines, sending weights crashing to the ground in deafening clangs. Rachel cringed and closed her eyes at the sound but maintained her silence. There was some more shouting, then the voices of the terrorists faded down the nearby corridor.
"Malik is dead! The Americans shot him as they were retreating! " Bilal said into the phone on the rooftop as stumbled onto his body.
"Allah's curse be upon them!" Nakkash screamed, his eyes wide with rage. "The infidel cowards!" He had known Malik for years, even since they first met in the Israeli prison. The Americans and Israelis will pay for this, Nakkash swore. Yet he took comfort in the knowledge that his brother in arms was in paradise with the 72 virgins that befitted such a proud and noble holy warrior.
"It is over?" Nakkash asked, looking at the signal indicator on his cell phone and shaking it in rage before pressing it back to the ear. He waved his arms widely, motioning for Khattab to double check the area close to the stage and auditorium. He then barked some orders for the terrorists to execute any wounded soldiers left behind in the chaos of battle.
"I think so," Bilal said on the other line, panting.
"What in blazes do you mean you 'think so'? What kind of answer is that?" Nakkash demanded.
"We cleared the area, Emir!" Bilal replied quickly. "The American squad had made it through. We tried to cut off their escape at the pool and killed at least two of them but they retreated into the water."
"Wald ir qaraqir! Nayaak ghbar!" Nakkash swore angrily. "I knew we should have rigged the sewers below the pool too."
"They surprised us this time and it wasn't on their initial plan, but the Americans' quick thinking will only get them so far. We are still in control, Emir," Malik said. "Victory is within sight."
"You are right, Bilal. I will make the Americans pay for their arrogance. They despise us, but we will make them fear and respect us"
BAND ROOM / BACKSTAGE AREA
At least they had let the hostages use the restroom less than an hour ago. Erika Rogers was surprised at how something as little as this was to be almost celebrated given her circumstances. Likewise, her spirits had actually rose slightly upon hearing the crackle of gunfire echoing through the halls and the distant explosions rocking the building as it meant a rescue operation was underway. Her heart sank to a place lower than she even knew existed as the gunfire died down, replaced only by the victorious and taunting shouts in Arabic, mixed with angry Koranic incantations. The only Arabic she could pick out was kafir, or infidel along with Allah akbar. She had learned those from her boyfriend who had served in Afghanistan with the Marines. Nakkash and Khattab stormed into the room, waving their guns around. David Glick held Erika's hand tight, whispering for her to remain calm.
David was nervous, yes, but angry and disgusted at the same time. There were more than two dozen Islamic nations, yet his people, the Jews, couldn't even have one sliver of land without radical Islam's irrational hatred and bloodthirst coming down upon them. Even back in the United States, the Islamic American Alliance refused to denounce Hamas as a terrorist group. David knew from the look on Nakkash and Khattab's faces that they were about to pick out more hostages to execute, this time among the Americans.
Nakkash went over to an attractive female college student named Nicole, who had a nice but quiet personality. He whipped her across the face with his assault rifle then grabbed her hand and yanked her out of her seat and yelled at the hostages. "I warned your governments against trying to retake this building! American soldiers participated in this attack that killed many of our brothers! I should kill all of you! I should detonate this building and avenge the blood of our martyrs! You Americans think your lives are worth more than ours? The planes and drones Israel uses to carry out their aggression against Palestine are all made in America!"
Erika and most of the other hostages shuddered in fear. She hasn't been following the news carefully but still knew about the gruesome kidnapping and beheadings that had taken place across the Middle East. She did catch Nakkash's unintended admission in the middle of his rant that the American and Israeli soldiers had killed several of the terrorists, but this just might make Nakkash and the surviving Hamas fighters even more unhinged. "Your President Ryan's friend, Prime Minister Weinstein will now learn that the price for challenging me is severe. Two of your fellow citizens will pay with their blood. We would be well within our rights to kill every single one of you."
Nakkash walked directly over to Erika and she froze, silently pleading against hope that she would not be chosen. Next to her, David gave Nakkash a look of pure loathing and hatred, getting his attention. "You, come with me!" he barked harshly at David. Erika held his hand tight. She had been annoyed at David's crazy antics and drunken advances during this trip but there was no way he deserved this. David accepted his face with a stronger resolve than most of them would have, simply nodding his compliance to Nakkash and standing up. David was raised as an ardent Zionist in a typical New York Jewish family, and it was always his dream to come to Israel.
"I'm so sorry," Erika mouthed, tears falling down her face.
"It's okay," David said to her, "This is my homeland and I'm finally here."
Nicole, on the other hand, couldn't get herself to move as Nakkash ordered, and the terrorist slapped her across the face and dragged her toward the door. "You will do as I say, or I will kill one of your friends! And you will still die! Is that what you want?" Nakkash screeched loudly and fired several bullets into the back wall, shattering a display case. "IS IT?"
Nicole broke down crying. "Please….sir…..I….I'm sorry about what's happening in your country." She desperately hoped that referring to Palestinian sovereignty would stir some kind of mercy in Nakkash, but the terrorist leader's mind was set.
"I see you don't consider Israel your home like your friend here does. You are an American first and a Jew second, but I hate both equally." Nakkash retorted harshly. "You Americans are worse than the Soviets the mujahideen fought in Afghanistan. You are proud of your democracy, the government of the people, by the people, you call it. It was the American people who elected President Ryan, who killed tens of thousands of Iranians when they tried to liberate Saudi Arabia, who murders Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan and desecrates the holiest shrines of Islam! You murder the jihadi leaders of Somalia with your drones. You are just as guilty as your government. You are all enemies of Islam!"
"Please don't hurt anyone else," Nicole cried, mustering all the bravery she had to spare the lives of any more innocent children in this room. Nakkash and Khattab herded David and Nicole out of the room but dispatched an extra terrorist to guard the remaining hostages.
Soon thereafter they were up in the backstage area where the cameras and videoconference equipment was set up. Nakkash adjusted the checkered Arabian kaffiyeh he was wearing, making sure the Palestinian colors were prominently visible. The two Americans and six Israeli hostages were kneeling at gunpoint in front of the Hamas and Palestinian banners with several other masked terrorists visible in the video. Instead of a gun, however, Nakkash held a curved Arab scimitar in one hand, and a Koran in the other.
"I have Qatar on the line," Khattab said, "Al-Jazeera has you on a live feed. The other networks, including Fox News, are broadcasting on a delay, of course, but every major news station in the world is receiving this." Nakkash nodded and prepared to speak.
"Less than two hours ago," Nakkash said into the camera, "We, Allah's warriors, proved to the Zionist enemy and their American allies that we are men of our word. Instead of easing the aggression and humiliation of the proud Arab people, the Israel Defense Forces, with direct support from United States Army personnel, attempted a foolish operation to retake this building. The mujahideen of Hamas resisted and defeated this attack against us.
" Three of our men have martyred themselves for the cause and they now rest in paradise," he said, purposely understating the casualties Hamas suffered, "But we have killed every Israeli and American soldier who entered this building. However, the Jews and the Americans shall pay for their actions with the lives of their citizens."
Nakkash thuggishly walked over to the hostages, going to Nicole first.
"The world is watching this, kafir. What is your name?" he demanded.
"Nicole Katz," she chocked.
"How old are you? Where are you from?" Nakkash asked while looking into the camera with a demented smile.
"I…I'm 19 years old. I'm from Denver, Colorado."
"What message do you have for the world?" Nakkash demanded in a chilling tone of voice, his eyes wide and delusional. "Speak up, tell them, American." He then whispered just loud enough for her to hear. "Remember what you practiced. I can always bring more of your friends here."
"What's happening to me is because of the U.S. and Israeli imperialists and their refusal to negotiate with the Hamas freedom fighters who seek the liberation of Palestine. Do as they ask, and stop the American imperialism and aggression against the Islamic world. If not, the jihad will only continue."
Nakkash stepped forward with the scimitar and with the cameras rolling, beheaded Nicole in one swift swing of the blade. He went over to David, who was glad he wasn't the one forced to recite the terrorists' lines. He probably would have gotten smart with Nakkash and stated the obvious truth that Hamas alone was responsible for what was happening. He swung the blade again, slicing off David's head. Nakkash then gruesomely picked up the two decapitated heads and held them victoriously in front of the camera. "Allah akbar!"
Even the Al-Jazeera studio worker in Qatar thought that enough was broadcasted, but the higher ups in the Arabic CNN insisted that the beheadings of the six Israeli students also be shown live. After all, they couldn't guarantee that Al-Arabiya or Palestinian TV wouldn't continue the broadcast, and that would affect their ratings.
DEFENSE MINISTRY, JERUSALEM
"Sir, with all due respect, they're under pressure from the Israeli public to do the opposite," Ambassador Scott Cornett said into the phone to the State Department. "The public here is sick and tired of terrorism, they know this will not end just because they give in. You do not truly understand traditional Arab Muslim culture. Any kind of capitulation or any willingness to negotiate is seen as a sign of weakness, an vindication of their philosophy that if they use enough violence and terrorism, they can get what they want."
"It's not our concern what the public over there thinks about their government handling of the situation," the Secretary of State said, "My concern, our concern is for the lives of our citizens. I understand they chose to ignore a State Department issued travel advisory by going to Israel at this time, but the viewers of Fox News and CNN won't give a rat's ass. As tough as President Ryan is, he wants to avoid another Middle Eastern engagement if possible, which may be hard if the American people start calling for blood against Hamas's supporters elsewhere in the region. As you can imagine, the Democrats are already out for blood."
Cornett hated the idea of those Birthright Israel trips. American citizens really shouldn't be traveling to Israel at all and this put the State Department in a difficult situation. Yes that discovering your roots thing is interesting, if you were going someplace like Scotland, but certainly not the middle of an on-and-off war zone. Israel's relative calm was a veneer that could be shattered at any moment, as this day's events proved.
"We're just buying time anyway, remember that," the SecState said, "I only hope the military, both ours and theirs, have better plans coming up."
"Yes, sir, I'll convey this message to the Prime Minister."
"You've done good so far, Scott," the SecState said, "I won't forget your performance when we narrow down the choices for the Amsterdam embassy. You may well be able to come back deeper into the civilized world."
Cornett wearily put down the phone. He did feel like he was at the edge of civilization, with the darkness closing in on all directions. Beyond Jerusalem, Israel's enemies stretched for thousands of miles all the way to Pakistan. No doubt many of them were closely watching the developments at Ariel Sharon High School, the aftermath of the Tel Aviv bombings, and the Israeli government's response to the current crisis. In cities across the Muslim world, the scene resembled that on September 11th, 2001. Celebratory crowds gathered in public squares shouting Islamic slogans and firecrackers echoed through the open air bazaars. Cornett was especially concerned for his State Department colleagues in the region. The US embassies in Islamabad, Beirut, Cairo, and Riyadh were under emergency lockdown by the Marines as the Pentagon feared a repeat of the Benghazi consulate attack which was made possible by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's mismanagement of the situation.
Everything here certainly was upside down, Cornett thought. America's founding fathers were men who believed in unalienable human rights like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They were the farmers and shopkeepers who stared down the British Army and stood their ground at Lexington and Concord. If Palestine ever became an independent state, their founding fathers would be hostage takers and suicide bombers. How would future generations of Palestinians learn their history? Would they be proud of it the way the crowds in Gaza City were proud of Nakkash Bin Rahal?
The toughness and confidence commonly seen among the Israeli government officials were not holding up the way it typically did, Cornett noticed. Nakkash Bin Rahal had not led Hamas for long, but he had already managed to bring Israel to a brink in a way that the decades of armed conflict previously couldn't. Deep inside, Timur Sokolow was gloating, wishing he was there in the streets celebrating with the Palestinians but he had to keep his cover intact, at least for now. The rest of the plan hinged on this.
"Mr. Cornett, on behalf of the entire State of Israel and myself personally, I offer my deepest condolences to your country for the deaths of these two innocent American children," Prime Minister Weinstein said as Cornett entered the briefing room.
"The President does the same regarding the Israeli victims and the soldiers who have lost their lives so far today," Cornett replied, looking around the room. "At the same time, my President, the senior members of his administration, and my own superiors at the U.S. State Department are extremely concerned about the further loss of innocent life, both American and Israeli, if we continue on our current path."
"Ambassador, are you out of your mind? You can't possibly be suggesting that we show any weakness or express any willingness to compromise with that subhuman scum!" Defense Minister Moshe Doron blurted out. Cornett had expected Prime Minister Weinstein to rebuke Doron on his lack of decorum in this diplomatic exchange, but Weinstein did nothing, showing his tacit approval at Doron's sentiments.
"I'm not talking about giving in to their demands, of course not, but we need to buy some time as we prepare another assault." He almost mentioned having "assets available" within the school to help coordinate another rescue incursion, but bit his tongue. Henderson had insisted for operational security reasons that this information not be shared with the Israelis. The possibility of a leak somewhere was too high. "We don't know where our security was compromised but we have additional forces who have arrived from Camp Patriot, Kuwait, in the past hour."
"So what are you, or your government proposing, Mr. Ambassador?" Weinstein asked.
"A temporary withdraw from the Golan Heights and some of the West Bank settlements, to make Bin Rahal believe we are negotiating in good faith. This will buy us a temporary reprieve without any additional hostages being executed. Let me be transparent with you, gentlemen. The liberal left back home along with many elements of the American news media have tried to attack the President every way they can. They can and will use the deaths of these two American kids as a political weapon against President Ryan."
"You really believe this?" Doron asked. "The other major party in America will stoop to such lows? They have no decency at all?"
"That is correct," Cornett said bluntly. This wasn't the time to mince words, but to make his case the way his superiors needed him to. "Because of your country's history of tribulation, there is a sense of brotherhood that doesn't exist in mine, even among your political opponents. I've been in politics for a long time. I've been exposed to a lot. There is no sense of honor or decency when it comes to the American left and their friends in the media. You grew up in the synagogue, I grew up in the Southern Baptist church, but we both believe in a God. The liberal left in America worships only themselves and their ideology. Last month, in West Virginia, a Republican candidate for the state legislature lost her mother to a heart attack. Protestors unofficially sanctioned by the Democrat Party including pro-abortion activists picketed outside the funeral home during the viewing. This woman could no longer withstand the pressure and withdrew from the race. The Democrats who controlled the state election commission barred the Republicans from filling that spot with another candidate, thus leaving a liberal Democrat running unopposed."
Cornett continued. "And in a race this close, we can't afford this. I'm going to put this in the open. Ryan's Democrat opponent will not be anywhere as friendly to Israel as he is, and that is the honest to God truth. His campaign manager was involved in the Israel boycott movement at the University of Michigan. If he wins, you're looking at the cancellation of several major military deals, including the Anderson Aerospace Corporation's UAW stealth components and Ballard Technologies cruise missile guidance systems. He will certainly also reduce economic assistance to your government. If another American citizen is beheaded on live international television, the Democrats and their friends in the U.S. media will go after President Ryan with their gloves off. If you want to help your country, please take our advice into consideration."
Weinstein turned to IDF Chief of Staff Sokolow. "General Sokolow, how can this be done logistically? Carrying out a potential withdrawal as we prepare another hostage rescue operation?"
Sokolow got up and displayed a large digital map of Israel, the Palestinian territories, and neighboring countries on the large plasma screen that covered the entire wall of the conference room. "We will of course start with the most distant settlements, such as the ones around Jericho. Most of them are small outposts populated by religious Orthodox Jews."
"Could there be armed resistance by our own people there?" Doron asked.
"That can be avoided," Sokolow said. "What happened when we withdrew from the Gaza Strip was a close enough call. The Orthodox radicals can be dangerous, but we will simply warn them and withdraw our military protection from those settlements. This is in line with what Bin Rahal has said and we will be giving the settlers fair warning."
"But what about their homes, their properties and their possessions?" Doron exclaimed. "The Arabs will loot and ransack the communities the moment the residents and military abandon them."
"They will be compensated for that," Sokolow said. "Starting with the Jericho area will give us the time we need. That will be within Bin Rahal's timetable. Nazareth, East Jerusalem, Hebron, that won't be affected. We will be back in control of the school by then."
Sokolow shifted their attention to the Golan Heights. "This is where the situation is far less than ideal. We currently have two armored brigades in the Golan Heights. Both can pull back to the 1967 borders with Syria and maintain a defensive position east of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. We don't know if Bin Rahal has been in contact with the Syrian government or they have simply been observing today's developments, but three Syrian Army armored divisions backed by close air support are heading toward the Golan from Damascus, Aleppo, and Raqqa. At least within the next few hours, we predict they will enter the Golan Heights which eliminates our buffer zone. From there, the Syrians are within striking distance of more than a third of our country."
"This is a preposterous situation," Weinstein exclaimed. "We all know of the Golan Heights' strategic significance. Losing that buffer zone against Syria is unacceptable. We also know that Iran as well as terrorist elements from Pakistan and Afghanistan are increasingly involved in Syria, both with the regime and with the Islamists."
"Yes, sir, that is what I am suggesting," Sokolow said. "We must put our nuclear forces on high alert immediately upon activating this plan. We have more than a dozen low-yield nuclear weapons in the Dimona research complex that can be easily transported by military convoy and deployed through the Ballard Technologies mobile launchers. Mr. Prime Minister, I advise that you use our back channels with Damascus and inform the Syrian leadership in no uneven terms that Israel will not hesitate to use nuclear weapons to ensure our national survival, and that any breach of the 1967 border will justify the use of these weapons and the complete destruction of Syria's military capabilities."
Weinstein nodded and looked at every man in the room. "We will begin the initial withdraw from the Jericho settlements and begin pulling back our brigades from the Golan Heights, but I am calling up the reserves on emergency notice and I want a new defense line in Galilee. Ambassador Cornett, what satellites does the United States have over the region? I believe given the circumstances its reasonable for my government to request assistance while this crisis is ongoing."
"Everything the Agency has is classified, but the DOD has two birds over the eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans. I'll contact the Pentagon and have them redirected. I'm sure our friends at DOD and IDF can liaison with one another."
"Thank you, ambassador," Prime Minster Weinstein said, "We can't leave any gap in flyover coverage. I want up to the minute updates on the Syrian Army's progress. General Sokolow, I also want Dimona on red alert. Make sure the mobile nuclear launchers are ready to be deployed as soon as I give the order. I only pray it will not come to that."
FITNESS CENTER/BACKSTAGE AREA
Nakkash hung the bloody scimitar on the wall and whirled around when he heard his pager sound again. It said "Farad" on it. So where was that bastard? Where had he been up to all this time?
"Farad!? I should slit your throat just like I did these infidels!" Nakkash immediately screamed. "Where in blazes have you been? What in the name of Allah have you been up to?"
"And you still wonder?" the voice on the other end said in perfect Arabic without the trace of a foreign accent. "You've never realized your arrogance and insolence? I never expected you to. You think I really would just serve you like a slave so easily?"
"What in blazes is this, Farad? We are at war! The Israelis and Americans, yes, uniformed US Army soldiers, just attacked us! Where were you when they killed Malik? Are you even aware that Malik was martyred? You will report immediately, Farad, or I shall have your head, I swear in the name of the Prophet!" Nakkash screamed into the phone, attracting the attention of Khattab and the other terrorists gathered around.
"You think the glory is all yours?" the Arabic voice continued. "My brother, my cousins, we sacrificed, we bled and died for the jihad and you brushed us aside for your own glory. You think that we Shia are nothing, that the glory of Allah belongs only to you."
"The past, still? YOU?" Nakkash demanded angrily. "The leaders of your clan did not share Allah's vision for Palestine. I was willing to overlook this. We took you in and accepted you as a brother, you Lebanese Shiite dog!"
"I am a son of Palestine! My father is Palestinian! The blood of Palestine runs in my veins!" Jack screamed back, imitating what the dead Farad would probably have said if this situation was true. "The blood of my fathers also runs through me! You murdered my uncle in Beirut, you humiliated my clan! I will not allow you to take the glory today. In fact, the Americans and Israelis didn't kill all of your dead men. I killed many of them!"
"I will find you, you son of a Shiite whore, and your death will not be quick, I swear to Allah!" Nakkash threatened, panting breathlessly. Besides the Jews and Christians, it was the Shiites that Nakkash Bin Rahal despised the most. At least the Christians and Jews made it clear that they were enemies of Islam. The Shiites claimed to be Muslims, to worship Allah and follow the hadiths, yet they blaspheme Allah's name and make a mockery of the Koran."
"Go ahead and destroy this building! You don't have the balls to do it and martyr yourself. You send Sunni pigs like Malik and Osama to die for you. You know the Israelis will never give in to your demands. No doubt your friend in the Israeli government will find a way to get you out safely." Jack didn't actually know about Timur Sokolow being a Muslim terrorist, but he knew there had to be a Hamas mole somewhere in order for them to do everything they've done today.
"You petty, cursed apostate swine!" Nakkash spat out, "What I did was for Islam! You are helping the imperialists!"
"I care about the honor of the Zubaydah clan," Jack continued to imitate in Arabic. "You were so thirsty for power, so desperate for support it was so easy convincing you I put this cause first, before honor. We Arabs fought the Jews since 1948 to regain honor. What about the honor of my clan? The blood that matters most is that of my clan, whom you have wronged and in accordance with the ancient codes I seek vengeance. Nothing was more important to me than the honor of my tribe and clan. You and your Sunni friends violated this when you made war against us in Lebanon. Now I will take what is most important to you, your victory. I don't care about the Zionists or the Americans one way or another. The spirits of my father and uncles cry out from the grave for vengeance."
Earlier, Henderson had given Jack the background on Farad Zubaydah, the terrorist he had tortured for information on the hostages' whereabouts. It turned out he had joined Hamas after one of the many bouts of intra-Palestinian factional fighting that took place in the Palestinian quarters of Beirut. His father and uncles had indeed been killed by Nakkash's Hamas faction, so the story Jack made up was believable. To complement his military training, Jack had studied the Arab culture quite extensively and was able to wing it pretty accurately. Evidently Nakkash had completely fallen for it. As much as Nakkash fought the Israelis, he was always wary of the other Palestinian factions, especially the traditional tribes who engaged in blood feuds to this day.
"You put these backwards codes before Palestine and Islam? I will get my hands on you Farad, I will make you die a thousand deaths! I have friends everywhere in Lebanon, each and every remaining member of your apostate Shiite family will be slaughtered slowly, one by one. Your uncles, aunts, second cousins, third cousins, they will be executed publicly. Their mutilated bodies will be hung from the trees all over Beirut for all to see! When we find you we will use you to practice how to torture the next Israeli soldier we capture, and this video will be sent to the IDF to instill fear in their cowardly hearts!"
Nakkash hurled the radio against the cinder block wall, shattering it into dozens of sparkling pieces. He then kicked the broken radio, sending more sparks flying into the air.
"I will find that Shiite dog and slit his throat, Emir," Khattab promised.
"I want him alive!" Nakkash told him, shaking. "I will make Farad Zubaydah pay for this treachery. His death will be unlike any I've ever afflicted on anyone."
Jack updated Rachel on the plan. Until the next rescue attempt came, probably in an hour or so, they would attack Nakkash's men from the shadows and keep them off balance, getting as close to the hostages as they can and wearing down the terrorist forces. Pretending to be Farad Zubaydah was the only way they could engage Hamas without Nakkash threatening to execute more hostages to force their surrender. They heard voices shouting angrily in Arabic as the terrorists' beepers alerted them to be on the lookout for "Farad" in addition to another incursion by the Army or IDF.
Rachel caught a glimpse of two terrorists approaching the fitness center and nudged Jack, motioning for him to fall down. They lacked silenced weapons, but the school was large enough that gunfire here would not alert the rest of the terrorists. However they wanted to kill from a distance away from the door, not knowing how many more hostiles lurked on the other side.
Jack hurled a throwing knife into the first man's forehead, the man collapsing backward and Rachel did the same to the second. The terrorist pulled the knife out of his throat and tried to scream but only gurgled on his own blood as he died. This did however attract the attention of more hostiles who came running.
Jack saw three terrorists through the glass approaching the gym and opened fire, mowing them down in quick succession. Two more came from the other end and tossed a grenade. Jack and Rachel retreated into the weight room beyond the treadmill and elliptical area as the explosion demolished all the gym equipment and the terrorists fired a barrage of automatic weapons fire through the smoke.
"We know you are here, Farad! Come out if you want mercy!" a terrorist taunted.
Jack and Rachel were both covered in Arab kaffiyehs worn by the terrorists so their faces were unseen by the enemy. Rachel fired first, hitting a terrorist in the chest as another one rolled a second grenade, this one into the weight room. Jack and Rachel took cover behind some heavy weights.
"I'm going to go for it before the smoke clears," Jack whispered to Rachel, picking up a set up heavy metal dumbbells. "I'm going to go for the first man with this."
She nodded. "Okay, got it Jack." She slung her Uzi over her shoulder and made sure it was fully loaded. Rachel also made a mental note to stock up on the armory in the weight room area, one that the terrorists haven't been able to hack into.
"Is he dead?" a voice said in Arabic.
"Emir Nakkash wants him alive if possible!" another said, followed by Arabic profanity.
Jack sensed the first terrorist coming through the smoke and bashed him as hard as he could in the head with the dumbbell, shattering his skull and sending him slumping down to the ground in a heap. Jack then saw the second man coming and jammed the dumbbell into his groin, the man screaming. Jack then took his knife and sliced his neck open.
In a split second, Rachel stepped into an area where the smoke was clearing and saw that the terrorists were distracted, except for one more that charged at Jack through the smoke, pulling his gun. Jack fired and shot the man in the leg but the terrorist kept coming, screaming in Arabic and tearing at Jack's face.
Rachel took aim at the two terrorists, shooting them down in a row, some of the bullets ricocheting off the weight lifting equipment. Two more terrorists entered the room. "I will kill you Farad!" Rachel quickly killed the first one with a shot to the chest but the two others opened fire. She went behind a leg and bench press machine as the bullets hit the machines, bouncing back. She shot a terrorist in the foot, sending his screaming to the ground, then finished him off with a burst to the head.
The terrorist attacking Jack screamed wildly, kicking Jack's gun away. Jack punched him in the face and kicked him as hard as he could in the solar plexus. The heavyset Muslim grunted in pain but kneed Jack in the chest, knowing the wind out of him. He then kicked Jack in the stomach.
"Ahhhhh! Farad, I got you! I will bring you to the Emir!" the jihadi screamed. "Ibh Al- Sharmoota!" He continued to pummel Jack as Jack reached for a small but heavy set of weights.
Rachel ducked behind another machine as bullets hit the spot where she was just at. Rachel squeezed off a long burst of fire from her Uzi but the Arab was also gone. Then she saw his reflection on a mirror and knew his exact position. Rachel side stepped past a weight machine and gunned him down. At the same time, Jack took all the strength he had in him and jammed the weight into the mouth of the jihadi attacking him, knocking all of his teeth out. The jihadi looked at Jack in a rage and Jack slammed him into the wall.
Jack tore off his kaffiyeh so the terrorist could see his face.
The Muslim's eyes went wide in pain and fear. "You American infidel!" he struggled to say through his broken mouth.
"That's right. I just wanted you to know," Jack said before he bashed in the terrorist's skull with the weight, hearing a squishy sound as the jihadi's brain imploded.
The withdraw began as promised, with IDF security forces pulling back from the Jewish settlements around Jericho in the easternmost portion of the West Bank. The head rabbi of one of the small settlements made sure the media networks throughout Israel and the West knew of the government decision to abandon them, even temporarily. All of this land belonged to Israel, the rabbi said. It was written in the Torah as well as in the Bible. This was all part of the Promised Land and the Muslims had no legitimate claim to it. He called Prime Minister Weinstein a coward for "surrendering" to terrorism. The rabbi pointed out that the events in Tel Aviv only further emphasized the importance to maintaining the West Bank as a buffer zone against the Islamic nations seeking to destroy Israel.
Refusing to evacuate, the rabbi and several of his followers took up arms defending the settlement, engaging in a twenty minute shootout with an armed Palestinian faction. The rabbi and seventeen other Israelis were killed along with twenty three Palestinian gunmen. The Middle Eastern news media had a live broadcast as the Israeli flag over the Jericho settlement was torn down, riddled with gunfire, and then set aflame, replaced by a Palestinian flag and several Islamic banners. As much of a PR disaster this was for the Israeli government both domestically and throughout the West, there was worse news to come.
Timur Sokolow rushed quickly into the large situation room where the map was still on display.
"I assume you have an update on Syria?" Defense Minister Doron said. Ambassador Cornett looked at the map intently.
"Yes," Sokolow panted, "My office was just contacted by the commander of the UN contingent in the Golan Heights. There's been a skirmish between the UN peacekeeping force and the 4th mechanized division. The Syrian commander ordered that the peacekeepers vacate the Golan. When they refused, the Syrians responded with an artillery barrage that killed more than forty Japanese peacekeepers. The UN contingent returned fire and destroyed seven Syrian Army tanks but the Syrian advance is continuing. They will be inside the Golan Heights within the hour. The other units from Aleppo and Raqqa are continuing to advance. That is several times the number of soldiers they need to hold just the Golan Heights."
"You're saying they're actually going to invade northern Israel?" Weinstein exclaimed. "They certainly don't waste any time."
"The time for peace is over!" Doron shouted. "There has never been a chance for peace. That is not a word in the Arabs' vocabulary. All they know is jihad and war. They have never recognized our country. They will invade as far as they can while our hands are tied. I wouldn't be surprised if Damascus knew about Bin Rahal and supported him"
"Have you been in contact with Damascus?" Sokolow asked.
"Our contact there has not replied back with a message from the Syrian President," Weinstein said glumly.
"In that case I must concur with Minister Doron and recommend that we activate the nuclear option immediately. Nothing will stop the Syrian forces from going beyond the Golan and into Israel proper. All our buffer zones, everything we have fought for and held since 1967 will be gone. We are facing a second Holocaust. Each and every one of those Syrian soldiers, like each fighter in Hamas, has our annihilation on his mind. They will murder every man, woman, and child in whatever area they occupy. Our forces in the north are outnumbered. Sir, we have no other option. This is why we developed our nuclear program in the first place."
Cornett didn't know what to say so he remained silent. The developments from Syria were certainly concerning. Nothing he could say would change the Israelis' minds anyway.
"Call Dimona," Weinstein told Sokolow. "I want the warheads you had mentioned earlier placed in those mobile launchers and transported toward the Syrian border."
"Yes, sir," Sokolow replied then walked back toward his office.