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Saudis Bankrolling Israel’s Mossad: More confirmation?

By: Barry Lando Saturday March 8, 2014 11:24 am

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (then Crown Prince) with George W. Bush (then President), 2002

In October 12, 2012, I speculated there was a strong likelihood that Saudi Arabia was bankrolling Israel’s Mossad. Those funds paid for, among other things, the assassinations of several of Iran’s top nuclear experts over the past couple of years. That cooperation was, I wrote, the latest bizarre development in a clandestine alliance between the Zionist State of Israel and Saudi Arabia, guardian of Islam’s most holy site.

The Huffington Post refused to run that blog because I only had one source, which I was not allowed to name. Instead, I posted it on my own and other sites.

That blog went viral, particularly in Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia, where it was picked up by several news agencies. Now that claim has received new backing from a reputable Israeli source. But before getting to that, here is my original blog.

A friend, with good sources in the Israeli government, claims that the head of Israel’s Mossad has made several trips to deal with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia—one of the results: an agreement that the Saudis would bankroll the series of assassinations of several of Iran’s top nuclear experts that have occurred over the past couple of years. The amount involved, my friend claims, was $1 billion dollars. A sum, he says, the Saudis considered cheap for the damage done to Iran’s nuclear program.

At first blush, the tale sounds preposterous. On the other hand. it makes eminent sense. The murky swamp of Middle East politics has nothing to do with the easy slogans and 30 second sound bites of presidential debates.

After all, nowhere more than in the Middle East does the maxim hold true: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And both Israel and the Saudis have always detested Iran’s Shiite fundamentalist leaders. The feeling is mutual. Tehran has long been accused of stirring up trouble among Saudi’s restless Shiites.

Israeli and Saudi leaders particularly fear Iran’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons. Thus, it would only be natural that (along with the U.S.) they would back a coordinated program to at least slow up, if not permanently cripple, Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

It also makes perfect sense, that, in retaliation for the cyber attacks on their centrifuges, the Iranians reportedly launched their own cyber attack on a Saudi state-owned target: Saudi Aramco, the world’s most valuable company. Last August 15th, someone with privileged access to Aramco’s computers was able to unleash a virus that wreaked havoc with the company’s systems. U.S. intelligence experts point their finger at Tehran.

Indeed, a report earlier this year by Tel Aviv University cites Saudi Arabia as the last hope and defense line for Israel. With most of Israel’s traditional allies in the region sent packing or undermined by the Arab Spring, the Saudis are the Jewish State’s last chance to protect its political interests in the Arab world.

Now comes further confirmation of that strange alliance, from Richard Silverstein’s excellent blog Tikun Olam. Silverstein gets many of his scoops from Israeli reporters, often confiding information they’re not allowed to report in Israel. Silverstein also closely monitors the Israeli media.

He has been following the close cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia in targeting Syria and Iran. In his latest log he reports,

Shalom Yerushalmi, writing in Maariv, dropped an even more amazing bombshell.

Saudi Arabia isn’t just coordinating its own intelligence efforts with Israel. It’s actually financing a good deal of Israel’s very expensive campaign against Iran. As you know, this has involved massive sabotage against IRG missile bases, the assassination of five nuclear scientists, the creation of a series of computer cyber weapons like Stuxnet and Flame. It may also conceivably involve an entire class of electronic and conventional weapons that could be used in a full-scale attack on Iran. Who knows, this might even include the sorts of bunker buster bombs only the U.S. currently has access to, which could penetrate the Fordo facility. It might include scores more super-tankers which could provide the fuel necessary for Israeli planes to make it to Iran and return. All of this is expensive. Very expensive.

As background to his story, Yerushalmi, cited a recent speech by Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Nethanyahu, referring to the possibility that Arab states, which privately maintain better relations with Israel today than does the European Union, would do so publicly if peace were to break out.

“Nethanyahu,” wrote the Israeli reporter, “referred almost certainly to Saudi Arabia which finances the expenses of the enormous campaign which we are conducting against Iran.”

“The question” Silverstein writes in his blog, “is how far is Saudi Arabia willing to go. If Bibi ever decided to launch an attack, would the Sunni nation fund that as well? The answer seems clearly to be yes.

The next question is, given there is airtight military censorship in Israel, why did the censor allow Maariv to publish this? Either someone was asleep at the switch or the IDF and Israel’s political and intelligence officials want the world to know of the Saudi-Israeli effort. Who specifically do they want to know? Obama, of course. In the event the nuclear talks go south, Bibi wants Obama to know there’s a new Sugar Daddy in town. No longer will Israel have only the U.S. to rely on if it decides to go to war. Saudi Arabia will be standing right behind….

I don’t think this news substantially alters the military calculus. Israel, even with unlimited funding, still can’t muster the weapons and armaments it would need to do the job properly. That will take time. But Israel isn’t going to war tomorrow. This news reported in Maariv is presumably Bibi playing one card from his hand. It’s an attempt to warn the president that the U.S. is no longer the only game in town. Personally, it’s the sort of huffing and puffing that I can’t imagine plays well in Washington. But it’s the way Bibi plays the game.

Barry Lando has just written a mystery, The Watchman’s File, about an American reporter attempting to unravel Israel’s most closely guarded secret. (It’s not the bomb). Available on Amazon in soft-cover and Kindle format.

Israel’s most closely-guarded secret. Another excerpt from “The Watchman’s File”

By: Barry Lando Friday January 17, 2014 8:16 am

I invite you to read the latest excerpt from my mystery, “The Watchman’s File,” specially featured on Amazon’s Kindle again this week. It’s the gripping tale of an American TV reporter, Ed Diamond, as he risks his life to to unravel Israel’s most closely-guarded secret. (It’s not the bomb) To whet your interest, I’ve been posting excerpts here.

To recap the story to this point, Ed Diamond, one of America’s best-known reporters, based in Paris, receives an urgent call to come to Israel from an old friend, Dov Ben-David, former deputy director of Israel’s Mossad. Dov has alarming information, he says, concerning the U.S. and Israel. Diamond flies to Israel, but before they can meet, Ed’s friend is blown apart by a car bomb.

The next day, Ed mingles with hundreds of prominent Israelis attending  Dov’s funeral at the kibbutz of Ein Gedi, by the Dead Sea. He is stunned when Dov’s widow, Esther, accuses Ed of being responsible for her husband’s murder. To find out what’s behind that accusation, after the funeral Ed joins other mourners at Esther’s home.

———————–

It was a modest, one-story bungalow, like all the other dwellings on the kibbutz, faded yellow ochre stucco walls, roof tiles of burnt sienna, several splintered and cracked. No one came to live on a kibbutz to make a fortune. In exchange for your labor, you and your family could count on a roof over your head, three meals a day, education, health care, and—in the early pioneering days at least—the feeling that you were constructing something new and grand, fulfilling the destiny of your people. No more. The dream had been tarnished long ago.

There was a small garden in front of the Ben-David home, a few roses, a bougainvillea, and a towering banana plant that shaded the entrance. The door was open. Inside, it was cool. Esther sat on a beige sofa in the living room with a few close family and friends, all talking softly. She looked up when Ed entered. He wasn’t sure what to expect, but she gave him a wan smile.

“Mr. Diamond, please, come in. Have some coffee and cake.”

Ed poured coffee into a Styrofoam cup and took a seat by the bookcase, next to a couple of men who were turned to each other in deep conversation. A mourner’s candle burned on one of the bookshelves, its light flickering over an old photo of Dov Ben- David: a strapping young man in his twenties, dressed in short sleeves, shorts, and sandals, a Sten gun on his shoulder as he beamed confidently at the camera. Behind him, the mountains of Ein Gedi. Vintage Zionism, more than forty years ago, thought Ed. These days it has a vinegary taste.

The man sitting beside Ed, who had been talking with someone else, now turned to face the reporter. It was Arik Ben-David. “Mr. Diamond. Shalom again.” His smile was warmer than it had been at the cemetery. He glanced at the photo of Dov. “A fine-looking man, yes? And such dreams. We were so naive back then.” He took a sip of his coffee. “You know, I’ve often wondered why the Palestinian terrorists have targeted so few Israeli leaders. Maybe that’s all going to change now.” He shrugged. “It’s just something we will have to live with.”

He took a small piece of sponge cake and then glanced across the room at Esther.

“My sister-in-law says you came here to see Dov.”

“That’s right.”
“What about?”
“He wouldn’t tell me over the phone.”

“Well, then, I suppose we’ll never know.”
“I’d sure as hell like to.”
Ben-David patted Ed’s knee. “Things have changed in this country, Mr. Diamond. Even with the Wall, it’s become a far more dangerous place for government officials, past and present, perhaps even for reporters like you. Here, everything has become a fight for survival.”

”Dov never told you what was bothering him?”

“No. Dov and I lived in such different worlds. But you can’t imagine how much I will miss him.” Arik rose and extended his hand. “Goodbye, Mr. Diamond. By the way, if you do decide to look into this matter, let me know. Perhaps I can help you.” He smiled again. “I still have friends in high places.” He turned and limped across the room, said a few words to Esther, embraced her, and left.

Moshe Weinstein had been listening nearby. “I’ve known Arik forever,” he said as he sat down next to Ed. “I used to admire him tremendously. Military hero. Brilliant businessman. Grandmaster at chess. But now we rarely talk. Today was the first time in years he even shook my hand. The country is going berserk.”

“What do you mean?”

Weinstein glanced at the newspapers on the coffee table. They all carried pictures of yesterday’s bomb attack and a photo of Dov Ben-David. “I mean that the political weather around here is getting very ugly, as bad as it’s ever been: Jews against Palestinians, Jews against Jews, Palestinians against Palestinians. Some of them hate their own people more than they hate one another, and that is saying something.”

“And all sides are convinced they’re doing God’s will.” “Exactly.”

“And that’s what makes it so interesting for you reporters,” a woman’s voice interjected.

Gabriella Ben-David was standing before them. She had a tight smile on her lips as she handed them some sponge cake. “A peace offering—from my aunt.”

“Peace offering?” said Ed.
“That’s what she told me to say.”
“Thanks. How could I refuse?
“I’ll leave you two to figure things out,” said Weinstein. “Ed, here’s my card. If you’re going to be in Jerusalem tonight, give me a call.”

Gabriella took Weinstein’s place. “I can understand why you might have been surprised by my aunt,” she continued in lightly accented English. “I heard what she said to you by the grave.”

“She thinks I’m somehow to blame for what happened to Dov,” said Ed. “I’ve got an idea that Arik feels the same.”

“No, believe me,” she said solemnly. “It’s just that everyone is still so shocked by what happened. We do not hold this against you. Not Esther, Not my father. None of us.” She raised a hand to push her long hair back from her face. Once again, he was mes- merized by her emerald green eyes. He searched for something to say. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand Hebrew, but what you said by the grave moved everyone. Dov would have been proud. I’m sure your father was.”

“Thanks, maybe he was,” she said curtly. “He didn’t say.” The color rose in her cheeks. “Now come, my aunt would like to talk with you.” She guided Ed to the leather sofa across from Esther. The other mourners had departed. The widow was drawn and gray.

“Mr. Diamond, I am sorry if I am rude before. I hope you understand.”

“Of course. Please,” he put his hand on her shoulder. “You don’t have to—”

“I do know it is not your fault. You are just answering Dov’s call. He insists on calling you.”

Ed hesitated. Esther was exhausted, emotionally drained, but he had to ask. “What was it about? What did he want?”

She looked away. “He—he won’t tell me. He—all I know is that, the evening before he calls you, he is here, reading the paper and watching television, like always. When I come out of the kitchen, he is very upset.”

“What was he watching?”

“I don’t know. Usually CNN. He tells me he cannot believe what is happening.”

“Happening where?”

“I don’t know.” Esther threw up her hands. “He says he doesn’t want me involved. That night he does not sleep. He is up all the time. Walking. Around and around. Like an animal in a cage. For years, I don’t see him like that. The next morning he says he is going to call you. He says he trusts you. I have bad feeling about it. I don’t want him to do it. But he doesn’t listen.”

She stared at the picture of her dead husband on the bookcase. “He doesn’t listen to me—or to Arik. He says it is too important. Someone has to make the alarm.”

“Alarm about what?”

She looked helplessly at the reporter and shook her head. “And then, he has to go back to the spa. Why? Why?”

“But I don’t understand,” said Ed. “The declaration the terrorists made today was that they murdered Dov because he had targeted radical Palestinian leaders when he was in the Mossad. What does any of that have to do with his call to me?”

Esther’s eyes widened. She bit her lower lip.
“Please, what is it?” he asked. “What’s going on?”
She looked at Gabriella.
“It’s all right, show him,” said her niece.
Esther hesitated.
“Dodah, it’s all right.”
Esther walked unsteadily to the bookcase. She opened a cupboard on the left-hand side, removed a piece of paper, and returned. “Yesterday, just before the bomb goes off, the fax rings on Dov’s desk. It is this message.”

She showed the fax to Ed. There were two sentences hand– written on it, in a script that appeared to be Hebrew.

“Can you translate this?”

Gabriella took the paper. “It’s ancient Aramaic,” she said. “It is addressed to Dov and says, ‘Warning to those who commit sins causing dissension in the community, passing malicious information to the gentiles, or revealing the secrets of the town.’ It goes on to say, ‘Next time there will be no warning.’”

“You mean that bomb was supposed to have just been a warning?” said Ed. “It wasn’t supposed to have killed him?”

Esther stared ahead.

“That’s what we think,” said Gabriella. “Usually my uncle would never have been there when the bomb went off. He went to work at the spa early in the morning around eight. Then he would come back around 11:30, have lunch, rest, go to his study, read, write. During the tourist season, he’d go back in the late afternoon, maybe four or five, to see if there were any problems. But yesterday he went back down right after lunch.”

“He has to fix the computer at the cashier’s desk,” Esther explained. “The cashier’s desk is next to the front door.”

All expression had drained from her face.
“Do the police know about this?”
“The Shabak come last night. I tell them the same thing I tell you.”
“They took the fax with them,” said Gabriella. “I made a copy.” “Esther, I’m sorry to push so hard,” said Ed. “I hope you understand. I’ve got to go now. I’m staying in Jerusalem tonight, but I’m flying to Paris early tomorrow morning.” He took the widow’s hands and continued. “If you do find out more, please let me know. And if I can ever do anything to help, don’t hesitate to call.”

Not a very gracious exit, thought Ed, considering the circum- stances: Dov is dead because of what he wanted to tell me—but what the hell was it?

Gabriella accompanied him to the door. “I’ll walk you to your hotel.” The children were no longer playing on the lawn; the sun was at its peak. They strolled along the bamboo-shaded path toward the hotel, Ed very conscious of the attractive woman at his side.

“So that’s it? You’re not going to investigate Dov’s killing any further?”

“Unfortunately, I’ve got to get back to my office. I’ve another report to complete. And then I’ve got to get to New York. Besides, I wouldn’t know where to begin on this. Your intelligence services are supposed to be the best in the world. What could I possibly come up with on my own?” He’d almost convinced himself.

They walked for a while in silence. Her skin gave off a faint scent. Jasmine?

“You mentioned you are going to Jerusalem now. Would you give me a ride? That’s where I live. I came here with my father last night. But he had to go back early. I was going to take the bus.”

“Of course.”

“Great.” She touched Ed’s bare arm. “I’ll go and get my bag. Meet you here in ten minutes, okay?”

Ed watched as she turned toward her aunt’s house. His skin still tingled at her touch.

When he looked back, he noticed a tall, broad- shouldered man who looked like an ad for a Nautilus workout at the hotel door. He wore a white open-necked shirt, had an angular Slavic face, and appeared to be in his midthirties. He was staring at Ed and made no secret of it. Ed had seen him talking with Arik at Esther’s house half an hour before. He stepped forward to produce an ID card with the blue shield of Israel printed in the center. “Mr. Diamond, Amos Givron, Shabak. We are investigating the bomb- ing. I need to talk with you.”

“Fine. But I really don’t know how I can help.”

“We will see.” He contemplated Ed now with hard, unfriendly eyes. “Please, come with me.”

“I’ve also got to get to Jerusalem tonight.” Ed said.

As if he hadn’t heard, Givron continued into the hotel. Suppressing a brief surge of anger, Ed followed him past the gift shop, where a noisy group of tourists was trying on souvenir T-shirts, and into the cafeteria. The two men bought coffee and then sat at a small table by the window. The only other people in the room were sun-bleached teenagers, a boy and a girl in shorts and sandals, their heads close together, talking softly. The boy had a light blond beard.

Givron glanced at the couple, gazed out the window where hotel guests sat around the swimming pool shaded by giant palms, and then looked back at Ed. “As I said, Mr. Diamond, we are looking into yesterday’s bombing.”

Ed furrowed his brow. “I thought a Palestinian group has taken responsibility, the Sons of the Prophet.”

“They did—at least that’s the e-mail they sent to the press this morning.”

“You don’t think it was them?”
“I said we are still investigating,” said Givron testily.
“But why Dov Ben-David? I mean, he was retired, and he was known to favor a deal with the Palestinians.”
The Israeli looked up sharply. “Mr. Diamond, why don’t you let me ask the questions.”
Ed shrugged. “Be my guest.”
“Why did you come to Israel?”
“Dov called and asked me to come.”
“Did he say what it was about?”
“He didn’t want to talk about it over the phone.”
“I don’t understand, Mr. Diamond.” The tanned young girl cross the room began to laugh softly. Givron paused and glanced in her direction. Her boyfriend had his hand under the table; she had her foot raised between his legs. “Look, you are in Paris, and someone in Israel phones you, tells you to come to Israel, but says he can’t tell you why. And you—a very busy, very famous reporter—you simply drop what you are doing and fly to Israel.”

“No, you look, Mr. Givron. Dov was an old friend. I’d known him for many years. I trusted him. If he said ‘Come,’ that meant it was important.”

Givron’s eyes narrowed. “He helped you in the past—when he was with the Mossad, of course? Just how did he help you?”

“I can’t tell you. You can be assured he gave away none of Israel’s valuable secrets. But that’s as far as I’ll go. I’m a reporter. I protect my sources—even when they’re dead. That’s something authorities in my country understand.”

“You are no longer in your country,” Givron said flintily. “You are here, in Israel. We play by different rules. We are surrounded by enemies. We take our security laws seriously. It’s not up to you to decide if Dov Ben-David broke them by talking to you. It’s up to us. Perhaps what he revealed to you is connected with the bombing.”

Ed felt his temper flare. “Hey, I’m as interested as you to discover who killed Dov! And why! So cut the shit—and back off.” Ed rose from his chair. “Now, unless you’re going to arrest me for something specific, I’m out of here.”

The young couple stared at them across the room. Givron’s jaw tightened. He took a deep drag on his cigarette, exhaled, and smiled grimly. “Arrest you? Who’s talking about arresting you?” He spread his hands wide. “You are free to go. But if you do get any information, we shall expect you to be in contact with us, you understand? Another thing, Mr. Diamond…”

“Yes?”

“An intelligent man like you should be more cautious before he jumps into situations he knows nothing about.” His eyebrows arched. “You are dealing with crazy people here. You get in the way, they kill you.”

———————-

I’ll be publishing more excerpts, but if you don’t want to wait, you can download the book this week for only $0.99 while it’s featured on Amazon.  Also available in softcover.

America & Iraq: A Black Hole of History

By: Barry Lando Saturday January 11, 2014 4:09 am

The last thing the U.S. should do is become militarily embroiled in the conflict raging again in Iraq. But for Americans to shake their heads in lofty disdain and turn away, as if they have no responsibility for the continued bloodletting, is outrageous. Why? Because America bears a large part of the blame for turning Iraq into the basket case it’s become.

The great majority of Americans don’t realize that fact. They never did. So much of what the U.S. did to Iraq has been consigned by America to a black hole of history. Iraqis, however, can never forget.

In 1990, for instance, during the first Gulf War, George H.W. Bush, called on the people of Iraq to rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein. But when they finally did, after Saddam’s forces were driven from Kuwait, President Bush refused any gesture of support, even permitted Saddam’s pilots to keep flying their deadly helicopter gunships. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were slaughtered.

[H.W. Bush later denied any responsibility for that uprising, but you can hear his appeal to the Iraqis in a documentary I produced with Michel Despratx, “The Trial of Saddam Hussein.”]

Even more devastating to Iraq was the Draconian  embargo  that the United States and its allies pushed through the U.N. Security Council in August 1990, after Saddam invaded Kuwait.

The embargo cut off all trade between Iraq and the rest of the world. That meant everything, from food and electric generators to vaccines, hospital equipment—even medical journals. Since Iraq imported 70 percent of its food, and its principal revenues were derived from the export of petroleum, the sanctions dealt a catastrophic blow, particularly to the young.

Enforced primarily by the United States and Britain, the sanctions remained in place for almost 13 years and were, in their own way, a weapon of mass destruction far more deadly than anything Saddam had developed. Two U.N. administrators who oversaw humanitarian relief in Iraq during that period, and resigned in protest, considered the embargo to have been a “crime against humanity.”

Early on, it became evident that for the United States and England, the real purpose of the sanctions was not the elimination of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, but of Saddam Hussein himself, though that goal went far beyond anything authorized by the Security Council.

The effect of the sanctions was magnified by the wide-scale destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure —power plants, sewage treatment facilities, telephone exchanges, irrigation systems—wrought by the American air and rocket attacks preceding the first Gulf War. That infrastructure has still to be completely rebuilt.

Iraq’s contaminated waters became a biological killer as lethal as anything Saddam had attempted to produce. There were massive outbreaks of severe child and infant dysentery. Typhoid and cholera, which had been virtually eradicated in Iraq, also packed the hospital wards.

Added to that was a disastrous shortage of food, which meant malnutrition for some, starvation and death for others. At the same time, the medical system, once the country’s pride, careened toward total collapse. Iraq would soon have the worst child mortality rate of all 188 countries measured by UNICEF.

There is no question that U.S. planners knew how awful the force of the sanctions would be.  In fact, the health calamity was coolly predicted and then meticulously tracked by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency. Its first study was entitled “Iraq’s Water Treatment Vulnerabilities.”

Indeed, from the beginning, the intent of U.S. officials was to create such a catastrophic situation that the people of Iraq—civilians, but particularly the military—would be forced to react. As Denis Halliday, the former U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, put it to me, “the U.S. theory behind the sanctions was that if you hurt the people of Iraq and kill the children particularly, they’ll rise up with anger and overthrow Saddam.”

But rather than weakening Saddam, the sanctions only consolidated his hold on power. “The people didn’t hold Saddam responsible for their plight,” Halliday said. “They blamed the U.S. and the U.N. for these sanctions and the pain and anger that these sanctions brought to their lives.”

Even after the sanctions were modified in the “Oil for Food Program” in 1996, the resources freed up were never enough to cover Iraq’s basic needs. Hans von Sponeck, who also resigned his post as U.N. coordinator in Iraq, condemned the program as “a fig leaf for the international community.”

By 1999 a UNICEF study concluded that half a million Iraqi children perished in the previous eight years because of the sanctions—and that was four years before they ended. Another American expert in 2003 estimated that the sanctions killed between 343,900 and 529,000 young children and infants–certainly more young people than were ever killed by Saddam Hussein.

America’s Obscenities

By: Barry Lando Monday December 16, 2013 10:14 am

At times, outrageous juxtapositions in the news shriek for attention. Sometimes, they’re actually obscene.

A G-222 Turboprop plane

While our military wastes millions, Americans go cold and hungry.

On one hand, for instance, a series in the New York Times last week about the plight of 22,000 homeless children in New York City– “the highest number since the Great Depression in the most unequal metropolis in America.”

On the other hand, was a scattering of reports, facets of another on-going outrage: The hundreds of billions of dollars that the U.S. continues to pour into the cesspools of Central Asia, in a still undefined and ultimately futile effort to control political events thousands of miles away. I invite you to read  the rest of my blog.

We begin with the startling five-part series about the plight of the huge “invisible tribe” of  homeless children and their families in New York City, written by Times reporter Andrea Elliott. She eschewed mind-numbing statistics and faceless generalizations to zero in on the day-by-day plight of one 12 year-old girl, named Dasani.

She [Dasani] wakes to the sound of breathing. The smaller children lie tangled beside her, their chests rising and falling under winter coats and wool blankets. A few feet away, their mother and father sleep near the mop bucket they use as a toilet. Two other children share a mattress by the rotting wall where the mice live, opposite the baby, whose crib is warmed by a hair dryer perched on a milk crate.

Dasani lived for three years in a teeming, squalid homeless shelter, the Auburn Family Residence in Brooklyn. She shared a cramped, dank room with seven siblings and her parents, both of whom battled—not always successfully- with drug addiction.

Adding to the indignation, the Auburn Residence, which holds 280 children and their families, is located in Forest Greene, one of the new gentrified glories of  a supposedly transformed Brooklyn.  Despite New York’s spectacular resurgence over the past few years, the numbers of poor have also risen. Thousands, like Dasani and her family, have been consigned to “shelters” like the Auburn.

It is a place where mold creeps up walls and roaches swarm, where feces and vomit plug communal toilets, where sexual predators have roamed and small children stand guard for their single mothers outside filthy showers….

Almost half of New Yorkers live near or below the poverty line.

Their traditional anchors — affordable housing and jobs that pay a living wage — have weakened as the city reorders itself around the whims of the wealthy.

—-

But there were reports about another scandal last week, the continuing drip-drip of exposes that have been going on for so long that most of us are inured to them. Our eyes glaze over. And yet, it continues: the hemorrhaging of hundreds of billions of American dollars, part of a War on Terror that no one has ever clearly explained—nor convincingly justified.

One shocking case involves almost half a billion U.S. government dollars flushed down the drain in Afghanistan. Four hundred and eighty-six million dollars, to be precise. That’s the amount the U.S. spent to provide twenty G-222 turboprop transport planes to the Afghan Air Force. The planes are currently gathering dust on the tarmacs in Kabul and Frankfurt. Most never flew for more than a few hundred hours.

The problem? For one thing, the company running the program –Rome -based Finmessanica Alenia Aermachi –never bought enough spare parts to keep the planes running. To do that, another $200 million would be needed. Another problem:  Some of those parts are no longer available. Indeed, six of the original planes have already been cannibalized for spares.

The upshot: even before entering fully into service, those $486 million dollars worth of planes are to be junked.

—-

Back to New York: According to the Times, the reasons for the disturbing existence of huge numbers of homeless children are complex. They range from the economic crisis to wage stagnation to the rising costs of housing. They are also a direct result of Draconian cutbacks on government spending, on all levels, particularly for programs intended to help the poor: rent subsidies, special education, child care, health etc. etc. etc.

Americans, after all, have to tighten their belts, make sacrifices, get their financial house in order.

On the other hand, a few blocks from Dasanis’s shelter, the much more affluent kids have tutors to help boost their SAT’s and attend a private school where tuition is $35,000 a year.

Dasani, however, attends a nearby public school:

“The Watchman’s File”-Israel’s most closely guarded secret-excerpt

By: Barry Lando Wednesday December 11, 2013 5:40 am

 

I invite you to read the latest excerpt  from my mystery, “The Watchman’s File, specially featured on Amazon’s Kindle this week. It’s the gripping tale of an American TV reporter, Ed Diamond, as he attempts to unravel Israel’s most closely-guarded secret. (It’s not the bomb) To whet your interest, I’ve been posting excerpts here.

To recap the story to this point, Ed Diamond, based in Paris, receives an urgent call to come to Israel from an old friend, Dov Ben-David, former deputy director of Israel’s Mossad. Dov has shocking information, he says, concerning the U.S. and Israel. Diamond flies to Israel, but before they can meet, Dov is blown apart by a car bomb.

The next day, Diamond attends Ben-David’s funeral at the kibbutz of Ein Gedi, by the Dead Sea……………………

Excerpt 5:

Ed could smell  the lavender and myrrh the next morning as he passed Ein Gedi’s botanical garden on his way to the cemetery. He’d spent the night at the kibbutz hotel; the mild asthma attack he’d had yesterday seemed to have passed.

Today again the sprinklers were whirring, the vivid green of the lawn in stark contrast to the bleached canyons and parched mountain cliffs. The rows of tombstones were flat and unadorned, bearing names, dates, brief inscriptions. Several sturdy young men, in plain clothes but obviously military security, were dotted around the perimeter of the cemetery.

Ed threaded his way among the hundreds of mourners, many of them prominent government officials in dark suits or sports shirts, small skull caps on the back of their heads. Former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Bibi Netanyahu shook hands gravely. Netanyahu was not aging well, thought Ed: puffy jowls, bloated waist. Ehud Olmert huddled with the current head of the Mossad, arm around his shoulders. Ed couldn’t help feeling a certain gratification as he noted the attention that he—a rising television celebrity—was also receiving.

“Ed Diamond,” exclaimed a rasping voice behind him. “What is the illustrious American reporter doing here?” Ed turned to face a slender man in his fifties with thinning gray hair, hooded brown eyes, and a vise-like grip. It was Moshe Weinstein, once the subject of a report by Ed, just before Weinstein resigned as defense minister. “I can no longer be part of a government,” he’d told Ed in their interview, “that refuses to deal seriously with the Palestinians.” It was a headline-making statement from a one-time hawk, a man who had commanded Israel’s vaunted air force. Weinstein had since formed his own “Peace Today” party.

“Damn shame what happened to Dov,” said Weinstein.

“It’s so ironic,” said Ed. “Dov makes it through all those years risking his life on the front lines; then he retires and they get him.”

“You don’t know the whole story,” said Weinstein, reaching up to adjust his yarmulke.

“What do you mean?”

“Normally the spa’s coffee shop is fairly empty at the time the bomb went off—it’s the laziest part of the day. Dov just happened to be there. He took a plate glass window in his face.” Weinstein drew a finger across his neck. “It cut the carotid like a butcher’s knife, almost took his whole head right off.”

“Good God,” Ed shuddered. “What do the police say?”

“A very professional job. Nitrate-based explosives packed in a van. Detonated by remote control, probably a cell phone. We had hoped the Wall would end such attacks. It did for a while; somehow they’re beginning to get through again.”

“Do they know who was responsible?”

“Perhaps. About an hour ago a new Palestinian terrorist group, the Sons of the Prophet, claimed credit. They called Dov an ‘enemy of the Palestinian people’ for the things he did with the Mossad. They warned that all such enemies would suffer the same fate. ‘Allah is Great!’ and all that.”

“That was it?”

“More or less.” Weinstein paused. “Look, I don’t know much about them. I’m no longer in the government. They are supposed to be very small, very secret. But why did they go after Dov? They are playing by new rules. You probably heard that they’re also now involved with Al Qaeda—trying to produce biological weapons in Pakistan.” Weinstein shook his head. “Can you believe it? How do we make peace in this insane place?”

The cemetery was filling up. A heavyset man limped toward them. He had a shock of thick gray hair, a broad, furrowed brow, and a black ribbon in the lapel of his blazer. Ed recognized him at once. It was Dov Ben-David’s younger brother, Arik, much better known in Israel than Dov. He and Weinstein shook hands stiffly, with no pretense of friendship.

To fill the silence, Weinstein formally introduced Arik to Ed. The Israeli’s grip was dry, firm, his voice resonant, the tone of one used to command. “Shalom, Ed Diamond. I’ve heard of you.” His eyes were his most striking feature, a pale emerald green, like the inside of an iceberg. They bore right into you, thought Ed. Not necessarily hostile, just letting me know who’s in charge, like a rhino, or a leopard staking out his turf.

Arik Ben-David was a military hero in a country of military heroes—once one of Israel’s youngest generals. Ed knew the story: After being wounded by shrapnel in Lebanon in 1982, Ben-David transferred to the Mossad; then left the government a few years back to become involved in a variety of successful private enterprises—including some very lucrative clandestine arms deals with China.

“I’m sorry about your brother,” said Ed. “He was a very admirable, decent man. It must be a great loss.”

“Of course it is,” said Ben-David quietly. “Of course.” Something flickered in his eyes. He glanced at his Rolex. “Thank you for coming. Please excuse me, I have to greet others.”

“An interesting man,” said Moshe Weinstein as Ben David walked away. “Both he and Dov were involved with ridding us of radical Palestinians—PFLP and Hamas back then.”

“I knew about Dov.”

“Yes, well, the difference was that Dov regretted each killing. Arik, I think he really enjoyed it. He was actually forced out of the Mossad—too extreme. His son was killed by a Hezbollah rocket in south Lebanon. Deep down he hates the Arabs.

The sun was already high in the sky when the funeral service began. Across the Dead Sea, the pastel mountains of Jordan glimmered ghostlike through the haze. Like Ed, many of the men had removed their jackets. From where the reporter stood, he could see Dov’s widow, Esther, dressed in a short-sleeved black blouse and skirt, her daughter on one side, her son on the other. She gazed unflinchingly at the simple wooden coffin, apparently oblivious to the mourners around her. Arik Ben-David stood behind her, ramrod stiff, his large hand on her shoulder. Remembering the gruesome aftermath of the bombing, Ed couldn’t help wondering how much of Dov Ben-David was actually in the coffin.

There were a few traditional prayers, readings of poetry and texts composed by relatives and friends. The current prime minister spoke, as did the head of the Mossad and Arik Ben-David.

Then a tall, willowy woman who had been standing near Esther stepped forward. Even in somber mourning garb with no makeup, she was striking: her long chestnut hair framed an oval face, full lips, and the same remarkable pale emerald eyes as Arik Ben-David. She carried herself with the sort of poise you don’t learn, thought Ed. It was unaffected, almost regal. He glanced at Weinstein.

Gabriella Ben-David—Dov’s niece—Arik’s daughter,” Weinstein whispered, as the woman began to speak in Hebrew.

Ed couldn’t understand the words, but her voice, vibrant and clear, flowed over the mourners like a soothing balm. When she had finished, the silence was broken only by scattered sobs from the mourners and the cries of the starlings soaring on the currents of air that rose from the desert. Ed’s throat was tight. He brushed his eyes; Weinstein did the same.

At the conclusion of the service, each mourner placed a few pebbles or flowers on the newly turned earth; then they filed past the widow and her family to offer condolences. When Ed’s turn came, he took her hand. “Esther, Ed Diamond. You probably don’t remember me.” Her hand was limp. “I had dinner at your apartment in Tel Aviv a few years ago.” She stared right through him, dark circles under her eyes. It seemed she hadn’t registered a word. Ed stumbled on. “All I can say is I admired Dov so much, and I—”

She interrupted abruptly, her eyes suddenly ablaze. “I tell Dov not to call you. I tell him. But he doesn’t listen to me. He doesn’t listen.” She paused. Her lower lip trembled. “So now you are not making your interview with him, are you, Mr. Diamond? You make your trip for nothing.”

Ed was stunned by her vehemence. He opened his mouth but could find nothing to say. He was obliged to move on as Esther turned to greet the next mourner. Not sure what to do next, he wandered back through the gardens and ascended a gravel path to a wooden bench that overlooked the Dead Sea.

He sat there, gazing at the shimmering mountains of Moab and tried to fathom Esther’s violent outburst. How could he be responsible for Dov’s death? What was it Dov had wanted to tell him? Something to do with the United States and Israel, he’d said. But what? Ed frowned. This was not really the appropriate moment to ask Dov’s widow, even if she was willing to talk with him. But he had no choice: he’d already booked himself on the El Al flight early the next morning. He waited an hour until most of the mourners had left before he approached the Ben-David home.

To Be Continued

(I’ll be posting further excerpts, but for just a few days, you can also download the book in Kindle ebook format from Amazon.com’s U.S. store for only $0.99. The book is also available on Amazon in soft-cover).

 

 

Iran’s Nukes: The 2 elephants in the room.

By: Barry Lando Saturday November 23, 2013 4:05 am

David Ben Gurion, Israel’s Prime Minister and Defense Minister, 1959.

You want chutzpah? This is chutzpah: an Oped piece this week in the New York Times by a prominent Israel journalist, Ari Shavit, lambasting George W. Bush—not Barack Obama—for the fact that Iran is on the threshold of becoming a nuclear power. Instead of going after Iraq in 2003, says Shavit, instead of fatally draining Americas’s resources and prestige, Bush should have organized a coordinated coalition of powers to throttle a much weaker Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Where’s the chutzpah? Well, for one thing, if you want to blame an American president for failing to prevent nuclear weapons being introduced into the Middle East—and then passively accepting their presence–the list of culprits begins with Dwight D. Eisenhower, and continues through just about every American President since.

The nuclear weapons we’re talking about are not Iran’s feared–but not yet existing-devices, but Israel’s very real nuclear arsenal.  Somehow Shavit, like most Israeli and American commentators analyzing the standoff with Iran, never gets around to the fact that Israel has had nuclear weapons for the past half a century.

The New York Time’s Tom Friedman—who also rarely mentions Israel’s nukes–points out that we’re right to distrust Iran’s assurances, because its government “has lied and cheated its way to the precipice of building a bomb.”  That’s an excellent description of the tactics Israel used to obtain its nuclear arsenal.  But it would never have succeeded without the willingness of so many leaders—American and others—to turn their back to what was going on.

For instance, in 1963-64, Argentina played a major role in providing Israel with 80-100 tons of uranium oxide (“yellowcake”) vital for Israel’s clandestine nuclear program.

Those secret Argentine shipments were quickly discovered by Canadian intelligence officials in 1964, who passed on the news to their British and American colleagues, who passed it on to their civilian leaders. That revelation cast strong doubts on Israel’s claims that its nuclear program was completely peaceful.

So, what happened? “In response to U.S. carefully worried diplomatic queries about the sale, the government of Israel spent years dancing around any straightforward replies. The U.S. and its allies showed no appetite to seriously challenge Israel’s on-going evasions.

Theirs, as I’ve previously blogged, was the continuation of an ostrich-like policy that began under Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950’s—and continues to this day.

As Seymour Hersh chronicled in “The Sampson Option,” in 1958 or 1959 America’s U2 spy planes spotted what looked almost certainly to be a nuclear reactor being built at Dimona in southern Israel. Two analysts rushed the raw images to the White House, expecting urgent demands from the Oval Office for more information: this was, after all, a development that could initiate a disastrous nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

But there was absolutely no follow-up from the White House.

“By the end of 1959,” writes Hersh, “the two analysts had no doubts that Israel was going for the bomb. They also had no doubts that President Eisenhower and his advisers were determined to look the other way.”

France—which is now in the forefront of nations demanding that Iran forswear the right to enrich uranium to its end–was also secretly helping the Israel build its nuclear facilities.

When the Eisenhower administration finally acted indirectly–leaking word of Dimona and France’s involvement to the New York Times in December 1960, Israel’s David Ben Gurion flatly denied the Times report.

He assured American officials –as well as the Israeli Knesset–that the Dimona reactor was completely benign. French officials guaranteed that any plutonium produced at Dimona would be returned to France for safekeeping (another lie).

The Eisenhower administration, however, had no stomach to take on Israel and its American lobby. Despite the continued reports of CIA analysts, Ben Gurion’s denials went unchallenged.

That hypocrisy remains official American policy—and mainline media coverage of Israel–to this day: a wink and a nod about Israel’s nuclear program. .

The hardnosed attitude is: Yeah, o.k. the Israelis have nukes. But, what the hell. They’re threatened with extinction by their neighbors, like that half-crazed Iranian-leader whatshisname? Amunjihad?, and terrorists like Hezbollah and Hamas, eager to wipe Israel off the map.

The fact, however, is that Israel also has its share of  political crazies, some of whom have been increasingly powerful over the last few years, crazies who have talked openly of using nuclear weapons on Iran, and continue to advocate a Greater Israel free of all Arabs. And as far as attacking its neighbors, Israel has invaded Lebanon twice over the past few years, swarmed into Gaza, bombed and carried out air strikes in Iraq and Syria,

But it’s not just Israel’s nuclear weapons that are only whispered about in Washington, there’s another elephant in the room: the major force driving U.S. policy on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program is not cool, rational logic, but the pro-Israel lobby.

Twenty years ago, when we did a report at Sixty Minutes on the most influential part of that lobby, AIPAC, not a single sitting senator or congressman would talk to us on the record; though all agreed on the lobby’s enormous power, second only to the NRA. (As if to prove the point, when our report aired, it generated more vicious calls and condemnation than any other report I’d ever done. )

Twenty years later, the issue of the pro-Israel lobby is still so sensitive that the New York Time’s Tom Friedman, created a sensation of sorts by stating a fact that that most mainstream columnists have are still leery of tackling.

“Never,” Friedman wrote, “have I seen more lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — more willing to take Israel’s side against their own president’s. I’m certain this comes less from any careful consideration of the facts and more from a growing tendency by many American lawmakers to do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations.”

For his efforts, Friedman’s column was viciously and immediately attacked by the usual suspects, with the usual charges.

[MJ Rosenberg, who spent 20 years dealing with AIPAC as an aide to a senator and several House members, has also written several accounts of Aipac’s influence. “Initially,” he wrote, “I felt like a voice in the wilderness.”

The bottom line is this — whatever your view about Iran or Israel’s right to nuclear weapons — how can statesmen or reporters or anyone seriously discuss the current crisis over Iran when a key part of the dispute is officially hidden from view?

How can the U.S. and Israel deal with proposals for non-proliferation and a nuclear free Middle East when they still refuse officially to acknowledge that the region is not nuclear free — and hasn’t been for the past 50 years?

How can they discuss and vote on these issues intelligently when many of the congressional players are acting not for the good of the country or the Middle East but according to the wishes of a very narrow and partisan lobby—whose influence many won’t even acknowledge?
 

Barry Lando has just recently finished a novel “The Watchman’s File” about the attempts of an American TV reporter to unravel the secret behind Israel’s most powerful weapon (it’s not the bomb). The book is available on Amazon in soft cover and Kindle edition.

Photo by Cohen Fritz, public domain

60 Minutes Benghazi Fiasco: There could have been so many more!

By: Barry Lando Sunday November 10, 2013 1:48 am

The embarrassing flap resulting from the 60 Minutes report on Benghazi—broadcasting a sensational interview with a security officer, Dylan Davies, an apparently totally trustworthy, convincing source, who later turned out to be a con artist–makes me shudder.

I recall the number of times during my thirty years as a producer with 60 Minutes when I only narrowly missed being caught in the same kind of devastating, career-shattering trap.

But first, what does it mean to be a producer at 60 Minutes? Each report on the show has “produced by” written on the art work introducing it, but most viewers have no clue what “produced by” really entails.

Indeed, the great irony of 60 Minutes is a question of truth in packaging. That is, 60 Minutes, which prides itself on ruthless truth telling, exposing cant and fraud, is in itself, something of a charade.

TV Shows We Used To Watch - Sunday 4th January 1970

The fact is that, although the viewers tune in to watch the on-going exploits of  Lara, Morley, Bob, etc. etc., most of the intrepid reporting, writing, and even many of the most probing questions posed in the interviews, are not the handiwork of the stars, but much more the effort of teams of producers. associate producers, and researchers–who actually sift through and report the stories that the stars present–as their own exploits–each Sunday night.

The stars who pull down the seven figure salaries. But, it’s the producers and their assistants who are, far more than the stars, also responsible for checking out the veracity of those reports.

That’s a daunting task. Most investigative reports on 60 Minutes (or anywhere else) are usually told in terms of black and white, the bad guys vs. the good guys. The problem is most of life is played out in shades of grey. When you start digging into any supposed scandal you usually find that the bad guy is not all that bad; the good guy not all that good, and often the supposed villain is not really a villain at all.  Or, as the former City Editor of the old Chicago Herald American, Harry Romanoff, famously said, “If you dig deep enough, any story collapses.”

Usually producers and correspondents recognize when they arrive at that point, and drop the project. But not always.  Particularly when the devastating revelation occurs after you have already committed several weeks and tens of thousands of dollars to a report. It’s then that blowing the whistle is most painful, and the temptation to continue, in spite of what you have uncovered, the greatest. In addition to that is the constant pressure to be turning out “sensational pieces”; the rivalry, not just with other news shows, but, even more pronounced, among the producers and correspondents of 60 Minutes themselves.

There’s plenty of ammunition for error. Every week, scores of people write and call 60 Minutes about some incredible expose just waiting to be unearthed. They supply reams of documents, which, they claim, prove their cases, and convincing explanations about why such and such newspaper or congressman refused to follow up on their leads and trumpet the shocking truth.

The more questions you ask, the more convoluted their answers become. But you never know when one of them will pan out. So you never stop listening, studying their evidence, hoping that one of them will turn into something electrifying.

Some of them, like Dylan Davies, the focus of 60 Minutes’ Benghazi report, also have books to peddle.

That’s what happened in 1982. when I was in New York, researching a report about a particularly brutal Communist regime. We heard that a former top official from the secret police of that country, who had defected to the U.S., was writing his memoirs.  I immediately contacted him. He showed up the next day in Mike Wallace’s office with page proofs of the book–plus the female CIA agent who had helped debrief him when he first arrived in the States.

The debriefing had obviously gone well.  They’d married and she’d help him write his account. (This, don’t forget, was almost thirty years before Homeland!)

That same week a news story broke about two black U.S. Marine sergeants who, the government claimed, had let two Russian girls they were dating, into the U.S. Embassy in Moscow after hours. The government threw the book at both men, claiming they’d compromised Embassy security.

“You know,” the Communist defector in Mike’s office told me, “what happened in Moscow is nothing. In our country, the U.S. Ambassador’s wife was having an affair with the embassy driver.” The driver, like all nationals working for the embassy, was a member of that country’s secret police.

Israel’s Most Closely-Guarded Secret-another installment “The Watchman’s File”

By: Barry Lando Sunday October 13, 2013 8:34 am

I invite you to read another installment of my new mystery novel, “The Watchman’s File”. It follows the efforts of  American TV investigative reporter, Ed Diamond, to unravel Israel’s most closely-guarded secret. (It’s not the bomb). Previous installments are available on my site. Here’s the last part of Chapter One. (Diamond had received an urgent call to fly to Israel to meet with an old, very reliable source, Dov Ben-David, former deputy director of the Mossad, now retired and living at the kibbutz of Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea,). 

———–

Another hour and a half to go, thought Ed as he sipped a bottle of water. He bypassed Jerusalem and continued through hardscrabble gulches, home to a few remaining Bedouins, their camels and donkeys hobbled next to their battered pickups. The road turned south, dipped into the Judean Desert. On the right, the bone-dry mountains and gorges of what geologists call the Afro-Syrian Rift; ahead and to the left, the Dead Sea shimmered in the late-afternoon heat.

Suddenly, a police car flashed by, its siren howling, dust flaring in the sun. Careening after it, with the same banshee wail, came another police car, then another.

A terrorist attack at Masada or Beersheba, thought Ed. It was just after five p.m. He turned on the car radio and found the English-language news broadcast from Kol Yisrael.

“….three other people were injured. The blast occurred at three forty-five this afternoon. According to reports, the explosive charge was placed in a Volkswagen van parked near the café. Two of the injured were tourists. No one has yet claimed responsibility.

“Meanwhile in Damascus, the US secretary of state refused comment after completing talks with the Syrian president. Sources close to the secretary were ‘disappointed’ by the lack of progress.”

Jesus, thought Ed as the announcer rattled on, how the hell can anyone live with the constant tension in this place, the threat of violence always ready to explode? A military jeep and van roared by, headed north.

At the turnoff for the kibbutz, he saw where all the emergency traffic was coming from: a few hundred yards down the highway was a cluster of military jeeps and trucks. Soldiers in olive-green battle dress had cordoned off a group of buildings by the Dead Sea: the Ein Gedi Spa.

Ed parked and walked to the checkpoint. A gaggle of German tourists had stopped, and one of them, a potbellied blonde, was chattering into her cell phone, giving a strident account to friends or family in Germany. The others were taking pictures of one another posed in front of the soldiers.

A stringy, gray-haired reservist manned the checkpoint, a TAR-21 slung from his shoulder. Ed produced his Israeli press pass.

“Only emergency workers allowed through.”

“What happened?” asked Ed.

“A car bomb at the spa.”

“When?”

“I don’t know,” the reservist snapped. “Two hours ago. Maybe less. I can’t talk to media.”

The explosion had hit thirty yards away. The van must have been parked by the front door of the spa’s café. Shards of painted silver metal, twisted steel and chrome, were all that remained of the vehicle. The blast had cratered the highway, knocked a hole in the cement wall of the coffee shop, blown out the door and all the windows.

Two investigators in plain clothes were picking through the debris, taking measurements and notes as they went. Three young men wearing bright yellow vests—ultra-Orthodox volunteers from the Zaka organization—were carefully collecting body parts and shards of human flesh, some hanging from the branches of the palm trees, to return to their families for religious burial.

There was still a thin veil of dust and a faint, acrid smell in the air. Ed coughed a couple of times. He could already feel his chest tightening. An army colonel wearing wraparound sunglasses and the double-eagle insignia of AMAN came over. Between coughs, Ed again produced his press pass.

“No comment,” said the colonel. He was obviously from the States originally.

 

“Just tell me, off the record, what happened?” Ed paused for a breath. “I’ve a friend who lives here.”

“Can’t do.” The officer nodded toward the nearby hill. “Ask at the kibbutz.”

Ed gasped again, and the officer’s eyes abruptly narrowed as the reporter reached for his pocket and withdrew a dark-blue device.

“Asthma,” said Ed. “The dust.” The last thing he needed was for this hair-trigger colonel to think he was reaching for a weapon. He inserted the inhaler in his mouth, pressed, and inhaled deeply. After a few minutes, he could feel the bronchial passages opening, but the relief was only temporary. His breathing was still labored. He had to get away from the site and the irritants swirling in the air.

****

He walked unsteadily to his car, drove back to the highway, and waited there for a few minutes until the attack had receded. Then he took the asphalt road that wound up the hill to Ein Gedi, passed a soccer field, where teenagers in blue shorts and T-shirts scampered about as if car bombs were a daily occurrence, and pulled into the parking lot by the dining hall and a newly built auditorium. Children ran laughing through sprinklers that watered the thick green lawn. Tidy flowerbeds lined the paths leading to the bungalows. This could be a middle-class suburb anywhere in the Southwest, thought Ed, if it weren’t for the Israeli flag flapping in the breeze, the security fence ringing the entire settlement, and those young men back at the blast site and their baskets of human flesh.

There was a cluster of people at the entrance to the dining hall. They stared at Ed as he approached. He stopped before a squat man wearing a Dodgers baseball cap, sandals, and khaki shorts. He was peeling an orange.

“Shalom,” said Ed, “can you tell me where is the house of Dov Ben-David?”

“Who wants to know?” The man put a wedge of orange into his mouth.

“Ed Diamond. I’m, uh, an old friend of Dov’s.”

“It’s too soon to be making condolence calls, don’t you think?”

The man squinted against the sun and tossed the orange peel into the dust. “Dov—he’s dead, alev hashalom, killed by the bomb.”

 

Another hour and a half to go, thought Ed as he sipped a bottle of water. He bypassed Jerusalem and continued through hardscrabble gulches, home to a few remaining Bedouins, their camels and donkeys hobbled next to their battered pickups. The road turned south, dipped into the Judean Desert. On the right, the bone-dry mountains and gorges of what geologists call the Afro-Syrian Rift; ahead and to the left, the Dead Sea shimmered in the late-afternoon heat.

Suddenly, a police car flashed by, its siren howling, dust flaring in the sun. Careening after it, with the same banshee wail, came another police car, then another.

A terrorist attack at Masada or Beersheba, thought Ed. It was just after five p.m. He turned on the car radio and found the English-language news broadcast from Kol Yisrael.

“….three other people were injured. The blast occurred at three forty-five this afternoon. According to reports, the explosive charge was placed in a Volkswagen van parked near the café. Two of the injured were tourists. No one has yet claimed responsibility.

“Meanwhile in Damascus, the US secretary of state refused comment after completing talks with the Syrian president. Sources close to the secretary were ‘disappointed’ by the lack of progress.”

Jesus, thought Ed as the announcer rattled on, how the hell can anyone live with the constant tension in this place, the threat of violence always ready to explode? A military jeep and van roared by, headed north.

At the turnoff for the kibbutz, he saw where all the emergency traffic was coming from: a few hundred yards down the highway was a cluster of military jeeps and trucks. Soldiers in olive-green battle dress had cordoned off a group of buildings by the Dead Sea: the Ein Gedi Spa.

Ed parked and walked to the checkpoint. A gaggle of German tourists had stopped, and one of them, a potbellied blonde, was chattering into her cell phone, giving a strident account to friends or family in Germany. The others were taking pictures of one another posed in front of the soldiers.

A stringy, gray-haired reservist manned the checkpoint, a TAR-21 slung from his shoulder. Ed produced his Israeli press pass.

“Only emergency workers allowed through.”

“What happened?” asked Ed.

“A car bomb at the spa.”

“When?”

“I don’t know,” the reservist snapped. “Two hours ago. Maybe less. I can’t talk to media.”

The explosion had hit thirty yards away. The van must have been parked by the front door of the spa’s café. Shards of painted silver metal, twisted steel and chrome, were all that remained of the vehicle. The blast had cratered the highway, knocked a hole in the cement wall of the coffee shop, blown out the door and all the windows.

Two investigators in plain clothes were picking through the debris, taking measurements and notes as they went. Three young men wearing bright yellow vests—ultra-Orthodox volunteers from the Zaka organization—were carefully collecting body parts and shards of human flesh, some hanging from the branches of the palm trees, to return to their families for religious burial.

There was still a thin veil of dust and a faint, acrid smell in the air. Ed coughed a couple of times. He could already feel his chest tightening. An army colonel wearing wraparound sunglasses and the double-eagle insignia of AMAN came over. Between coughs, Ed again produced his press pass.

“No comment,” said the colonel. He was obviously from the States originally.

 

“Just tell me, off the record, what happened?” Ed paused for a breath. “I’ve a friend who lives here.”

“Can’t do.” The officer nodded toward the nearby hill. “Ask at the kibbutz.”

Ed gasped again, and the officer’s eyes abruptly narrowed as the reporter reached for his pocket and withdrew a dark-blue device.

“Asthma,” said Ed. “The dust.” The last thing he needed was for this hair-trigger colonel to think he was reaching for a weapon. He inserted the inhaler in his mouth, pressed, and inhaled deeply. After a few minutes, he could feel the bronchial passages opening, but the relief was only temporary. His breathing was still labored. He had to get away from the site and the irritants swirling in the air.

****

He walked unsteadily to his car, drove back to the highway, and waited there for a few minutes until the attack had receded. Then he took the asphalt road that wound up the hill to Ein Gedi, passed a soccer field, where teenagers in blue shorts and T-shirts scampered about as if car bombs were a daily occurrence, and pulled into the parking lot by the dining hall and a newly built auditorium. Children ran laughing through sprinklers that watered the thick green lawn. Tidy flowerbeds lined the paths leading to the bungalows. This could be a middle-class suburb anywhere in the Southwest, thought Ed, if it weren’t for the Israeli flag flapping in the breeze, the security fence ringing the entire settlement, and those young men back at the blast site and their baskets of human flesh.

There was a cluster of people at the entrance to the dining hall. They stared at Ed as he approached. He stopped before a squat man wearing a Dodgers baseball cap, sandals, and khaki shorts. He was peeling an orange.

“Shalom,” said Ed, “can you tell me where is the house of Dov Ben-David?”

“Who wants to know?” The man put a wedge of orange into his mouth.

“Ed Diamond. I’m, uh, an old friend of Dov’s.”

“It’s too soon to be making condolence calls, don’t you think?”

The man squinted against the sun and tossed the orange peel into the dust. “Dov—he’s dead, alev hashalom, killed by the bomb.”

————

I will be posting further installments, but the book is also available on Amazon in soft cover or Kindle formats. Further information about the book, what reviewers have written, and background of the author, are available on my site.