By Larry Bond
By Patrick Larkin
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ALSO BY LARRY BOND
WARNER BOOKS EDITION
Copyright © 1996 by Larry Bond and Patrick Larkin
All rights reserved.
Warner Vision is a registered trademark of Warner Books, Inc.
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First eBook Edition: November 2009
We would like to thank Dwin Craig, Don Gilman, Dave Hood, Mennette Masser Larkin, Don and Marilyn Larkin, Colin and Denise Larkin, Ian, Duncan, and Chris Larkin, Erin Larkin-Foster, Kay Long Martin, Elaine Meisenheimer, John Moser, Bill and Bridget Paley, Barbara Patrick, Tim Peckinpaugh and Pam McKinney-Peckinpaugh, Thomas T. Thomas, Tom Thompson, and Brad Ware for their assistance, advice, and support.
Near the Holy City of Qom, Iran
A cold, bitter wind whipped across Iran's barren central plain, whirling sand, dust, and charred bits of paper and clothing across a scene of utter devastation.
General Amir Taleh picked his way carefully through the rubble and uncertain footing, favoring his right leg. He stopped momentarily to get his bearings. Bearings on what? he asked himself angrily. Taleh fought the urge to pick up a piece of shattered concrete and throw it.
A slender, physically fit man, with a neatly trimmed black mustache and beard, Taleh wore a heavy winter coat over his light olive-green fatigue uniform. The only adornments on his clothing were the stars on his collar tabs indicating his rank in Iran's Regular Army. Nothing else showed his status as Chief of Staff of the armed forces. Even now, the self-appointed guardians of his nation's Islamic Revolution were not fond of rank and class distinctions.
He was standing amid the burned-out wreckage of what had been the most sophisticated electronics facility in Iran. Only a ragged outline of the exterior walls remained, showing its original size. Ten thousand square meters of factory space and sophisticated equipment lay jumbled inside—with no more value now than a slum's rubbish heap. Explosives experts picked their way carefully through the rubble, looking for unexploded bomblets, while in one corner two men with Green Crescent armbands wrestled with a body still partly buried in the debris. Police and Pasdaran guards kept civilians out, but just beyond the barrier a large knot of silent men and women waited for word of those still missing.
Almost nothing was left of the electronics plant—one of Iran's precious-few facilities able to fabricate and repair integrated circuits and other high-tech electronic components.
Taleh was tired, his leg hurt, and he was coldly furious with the fools who had poked and prodded a sleeping lion into swiping back. And for what? For nothing! A few newspaper headlines and a few more graves in the Martyrs' Cemetery. Certainly, nothing of lasting worth!
The Iranian general scowled. He had been at the Defense Ministry when the American retaliatory strike hit yesterday. He'd only escaped death because he had been visiting one of his subordinates when the missiles arrived. One Tomahawk had hit the corner of the building containing his offices—obliterating them.
As it was, his leg had been injured by falling debris, and many of his best staff officers were dead or in hospital. The Defense Ministry itself was a smoking ruin. Since then, Taleh had been busy, far too busy according to his leg, visiting the attack sites and assessing the damage and trying to decide what to do next.
He turned to his aide. "How many missiles impacted here, Farhad?"
Captain Farhad Kazemi's answer was immediate and precise. "Seven, sir, out of the one hundred and five we have accounted for." He added softly, "Seven technicians are known to be dead and twenty-two more were seriously injured. Another eight are still missing."
The tall, wiry officer was Taleh's constant companion. Almost three inches taller than the general, his youthful, unlined face stood in direct contrast to the older man's own war-hardened visage. Like Taleh, he was dressed in olive fatigues, the standard dress of the Iranian Army, but Kazemi was armed, carrying a holstered Russian Tokarev pistol at his side.
For more than seven years, Kazemi had been Taleh's secretary, bodyguard, and sounding board. As the long war with Iraq limped to its bloody, futile close, the general had saved him from a trumped-up charge before Iran's Revolutionary Courts, securing his absolute loyalty in the process. He was one of the few men Taleh could afford to relax with. As much as any general could relax with a captain, that is.
Taleh let some of his pent-up anger out. "Seven missiles out of one hundred and five. An afterthought! And look at this! Billions of rials lost, and more than a dozen irreplaceable men killed! Abilities so painfully built up, bit by bit, reduced to so much junk."
He strode to where a nervous civilian stood waiting, deferential almost to the point of cowering. Dust and dark, dried bloodstains covered the man's clothing, and his face showed the signs of strain and a night without sleep. Before the American attack, Hossein Arjomand had been the plant's assistant director. With his superior still missing and presumed dead, the engineer probably feared he would be the one held accountable by Taleh's notoriously unforgiving regime.
"I … I just learned of your arrival, sir." Arjomand swallowed convulsively. "How may I assist you?"
Taleh waved his hand at the man, as if to motion him away, then stopped. He should at least try to get an idea of the situation. "How long to rebuild?" he demanded.
The engineer turned pale. "At least a year, General, maybe more. International sanctions will not prevent us from obtaining the materials we need, of course, but it will cost more and take much longer." He paused, then continued with his head lowered. "But I have lost so many people. How can I replace them?"
Drawing a breath, he started to list his losses in detail, but Taleh stopped him impatiently. "Save that for your own ministry. Tell me this. This plant produced electronic components vital to our armed forces. Missile guidance units, radars. Can they be made elsewhere?"
"Not as many. Not a tenth as many, General."
Taleh nodded, then abruptly turned away with Kazemi in tow.
As they walked, the captain noted the near-instant response of two tough-looking men in his field of view. They turned, still keeping a lookout ahead and to the sides, and trotted toward the American-built Huey helicopter. If the general had ever seen any irony in trusting his life to a machine made by the Great Satan, it had long since passed.
Once clear of the rubble, Taleh strode purposefully toward the aircraft, its engines now turning over. Shouting to be heard over the whine, he asked, "How many more sites?"
"Two, General, a chemical plant and an aircraft repair facility."
"Skip them. The story will be the same as the three we've already seen today and the ones last night as well. We'll go back to Tehran. I have to prepare for the Defense Council meeting later this week. And I'll want to meet with my staff after prayers this afternoon."
Kazemi nodded and once again checked around them. This time he saw all six bodyguards, their German-made assault rifles at the ready, fanned out around the helicopter, all alert for any signs of trouble. These men, too, had been with Taleh a long time. His rank and position entitled him to have an escort, but he eschewed the customary Pasdaran detail. They might be ideologically correct, but the Revolutionary Guards were lousy soldiers, and one thing the general could not stand was a lousy soldier. Instead, he used his own detachment of Iranian Special Forces soldiers. All the men wearing the green berets were hardened veterans, and Taleh had seen combat with each and every one.
His care had paid off. The general had survived countless battles against the Iraqis and at least two attempts on his life—one by political rivals and one by leftist guerrillas.
The two officers climbed aboard, and the bodyguards, still moving by the numbers, ran to join them. Once the last pair of Special Forces soldiers scrambled inside the troop compartment, the pilot lifted off, using full torque to get the Huey moving as quickly as possible.
Buffeted by high winds, the helicopter raced north toward Tehran at two hundred kilometers an hour.
Taleh sat motionless, watching the ruined factory shrink and fall away behind him. His thoughts mirrored the bleak, bomb-shattered landscape below.
In the mid-1970s Amir Taleh had been a junior officer, freshly commissioned and serving under the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Those had been difficult times for any Iranian of conscience, especially for one in the Army.
Driven by the impulse to regain Iran's place as the Middle East's leading power, the Shah had embarked on a series of massive projects to modernize, to Westernize, his nation. There had been progress. Schools, hospitals, and factories sprouted across an ancient, once-impoverished landscape. But the price had been high. Precious traditions, customs, and religious beliefs had been ground underfoot in the central government's rush to ape the West.
Ironically, the rapid oil price hikes engineered by OPEC only made matters worse. The gushing flood of petrodollars had intensified corruption, always a way of life for many in the Pahlavi court. Billions had been squandered on extravagances and on ill-conceived public works. Through it all, rampaging inflation made life harder and harder for the vast majority of Iranians.
Stung by the first stirrings of mass dissent, the Shah's government had reacted badly, handing over more and more power to the dreaded secret police, the SAVAK.
Taleh remembered the ever-present SAVAK informers all too well. At the Tehran officers' academy, one of his classmates had disappeared one night. No one was sure of the young man's crime—certainly, Taleh had never seen him commit any treasonous offense. His friends had dared not ask his fate, and even his family had never been told what had happened to him. The SAVAK operated as a law unto itself.
After receiving his lieutenant's commission, Taleh had been fortunate. He'd been sent to the United States, one of the many talented junior officers selected for further military training by the Shah's patron country. The long, difficult months spent in Infantry Officers' Basic and Ranger School had taught him much. He'd come to know and respect many of his instructors and his fellow students. They were tough, dedicated men—soldiers to the core.
He had felt less admiration for America as a whole. Outside its military, American society seemed strangely lacking—somehow sadly incomplete. Its people were often spiritless, overly materialistic, and selfish. Taleh suspected it was because they had no unifying faith—no common bond to give them strength.
Despite that, Taleh had learned what he could, and he had learned it quickly and well. Then he had returned home to find a country in chaos.
SAVAK excesses had at last sparked the very unrest the Shah so feared. Confronted by mass demonstrations and riots, Iran's ruler turned to a reluctant Army, ordering it to impose martial law, to crush its own people at gunpoint.
Taleh grimaced. Those were ugly memories. He could still see the broken, bleeding bodies in his mind's eye. Hundreds had died in the street fighting: idealistic students, devout, gray-bearded clerics, and chador-clad women. Even children had been caught in the cross fire. But at least none of them had died at his hands.
He could still recall the look of mingled anger, pity, and understanding that had crossed his commander's face when Amir Taleh—one of the officer corps' rising stars—had refused to obey any order to fire on the crowds. There had been a blood price to pay for such defiance, of course.
Taleh shifted slightly, still conscious of the old scars across his back. He'd been arrested immediately and taken to a secret SAVAK prison. There he had endured countless beatings, countless acts of cruelty and torture. But he had survived. Scourged by men, he had grown ever more steadfast in his faith.
As God had willed.
When the Shah finally fell from power, he waited for his freedom. He waited in vain. The Islamic Revolution, which should have been his salvation, simply replaced one set of jailers with another. To the mullahs, Taleh's refusal to obey the Shah's martial-law orders meant nothing. In their eyes, his military training in America had "Westernized" him beyond redemption. They saw him and the other young officers like him as "a threat to the Islamic society" they planned to build.
And so the faqih, the Islamic judges who now ruled Iran, had ordered the armed forces "purified." Hundreds of field-grade and general officers were executed. Others escaped to the West and into a dreary, inglorious exile.
By some standards, Taleh was lucky. He was simply left in prison to rot—a captive languishing without trial and without a sentence. But just as a war against his own people had proved his downfall, so a war against an ancient enemy restored his fortunes.
When Saddam Hussein's Iraqi legions stormed across the frontier, Iran's purged, "pure" Army proved itself incapable and inept. In desperation, the Islamic Republic combed through its prison camps to find the veteran soldiers it needed to fight and win. It had found Amir Taleh.
Throughout the eight-year-war, he had fought two enemies: the Iraqis and many inside the Republic's own governing circles. In a way, the mullahs were right. He had been Westernized, at least in the sense that he had accepted the Western idea that tactics and military reality were not affected by revolutionary doctrine. Competence and sound planning mattered more on the modern battlefield than blind courage.
He'd proven that, in battle. Starting out in command of a company, promotion had come quickly to him, a combination of survival and skill. First an infantry battalion, then a Special Forces battalion. He'd spent more time in combat than almost any Iranian officer now alive—much of it behind Iraqi lines. His decorations, grudgingly awarded, marked him as Iran's top soldier.
Those decorations had also saved him from falling into the hands of the Pasdaran, the fanatical Revolutionary Guards. Products of the Revolution, the Pasdaran's leaders viewed all Regular Army officers as potential traitors—or more dangerous still, as potential rivals for power within the Republic. For them Taleh was a walking nightmare: a decorated hero, a victorious leader, and a devout Muslim who ignored their authority. They'd never been able to touch him.
He frowned. Of course, he had never been able to touch them either. To his utter frustration, he had been forced to watch them send thousands of devout young volunteers to futile deaths in foolish frontal assaults, unable to speak out. The Revolutionary Guards had no grasp of tactics. They did not understand their enemy. Wrapped in a cloak of ideology, they never evaluated their actions against the brutal test of reality. Worse yet, the men at the top had never made the sacrifices they demanded so casually of others.
Since the end of the war, Taleh had devoted himself to rebuilding Iran's Regular Army. Despite continuing opposition from the Pasdaran and other radicals, he'd risen steadily in rank, climbing to the very top of his profession. He had never married. Surrounded by enemies as he was, a wife and children would have been little more than a point of weakness, a constant vulnerability. No, his soldiers were his only family.
Kazemi's voice broke into his thoughts. "Five minutes, General."
He could see Tehran now. A thin haze of smoke still hung over the skyline, almost twenty-four hours after the attack. Fires were still burning out of control in some parts of the city, spreading outward from the gutted shells of the Majles, the Parliament building, and the Defense Ministry. One bright spot in all this was the destruction of Pasdaran headquarters, but the capital had suffered more in one day than it had in the entire eight years of war with Iraq.
The American missiles had killed hundreds, and hundreds more were in hospitals all over the north of Iran. Most of those killed were government workers, technicians, military officers, or officials. Every ruling body except the Council of Guardians had suffered some loss.
The American message was clear. Payment for the dead in California had been returned tenfold, and much of his nation's military power had been savaged. And to what end? Was this worth it? Taleh shook his head, still staring out across the city flowing by below him.
Despite years of support from Tehran, HizbAllah and the other groups had done nothing to improve the strategic position of Iran or of Islam itself. Though occasionally stung by their random bombings, hijackings, and hostage-taking, the United States and its allies were still able to maintain their hold on the Middle East—playing one Islamic country off against another.
The helicopter settled heavily onto a makeshift landing pad set up near the office building he'd selected as the Defense Ministry's temporary quarters. Several staff officers were visible through the swirling dust, anxiously awaiting his return.
As soon as the rotors slowed, Taleh was out, favoring his leg but moving as quickly as he could. The Defense Council meeting was still four days off, but there were preparations to make.
Somewhere in the air over Tehran, he'd made his decision. This waste and destruction must never be allowed to happen again.
General Mansur Rafizaden sat in the back of his speeding black Mercedes sedan, angrily contemplating the upcoming meeting. By rights the Supreme Defense Council should have been gathering at his headquarters, not at those of the Army. He scowled. That cunning fox Amir Taleh was growing bolder in his efforts to steal power away from the Islamic Republic's true and tested guardians.
For more than a decade, Rafizaden had led the Basij, the People's Militia. He and his officers had mobilized tens of thousands of teenagers into hastily trained battalions for service in the war with Iraq. Many had died in that service, but since their deaths assured them all a place in Paradise, he was sure they had gone gladly.
Now he found himself suddenly thrust into command of the whole Pasdaran, a promotion earned when American warheads decimated the upper ranks of the Revolutionary Guards. Though new to his post, he took his responsibilities most seriously and he had no intention of surrendering his organization's hard-won powers to Taleh or any other tainted soldier.
Rafizaden began considering plans to humble his rivals. A guardian of the Revolution had to be energetic. He couldn't wait for threats to appear. He had to find those who were dangerous and crush them long before they could become a threat. Well, Taleh and his fellows were clearly dangerous.
While he sat deep in thought, his black Mercedes sedan raced through northern Tehran, escorted by two jeeps—one leading, the other trailing. Each jeep was filled with teenage Basij soldiers carrying a collection of assault rifles and submachine guns. During the more violent days of the Revolution, and during the war with Iraq, such escorts had been a necessity. Now they were viewed as almost a formality, and positions in the jeeps were given out as honors to favored soldiers.
The ambush took them all by surprise.
Just as the Pasdaran convoy passed one intersection, an Army truck suddenly roared out onto the street behind them. Before the men in the rear jeep could react, the truck braked hard and turned sideways, blocking the street to any other traffic. At the same instant a panel van pulled out across the convoy's path. The van's driver scrambled out of his vehicle on the passenger side, diving out of sight.
Even as the surprised Basij troopers readied their weapons, rifle and machine-gun fire rained down on the two jeeps from several second-story windows. Hundreds of rounds ricocheted off pavement and metal and tore the guards to pieces in seconds.
Both escort jeeps, their drivers killed by the fusillade, spun out of control and crashed into the buildings lining the street. The Mercedes, armored against small-arms fire, tried to steer around the abandoned panel van, bouncing up and over the curb in a desperate bid to escape the trap.
An antitank rocket slammed into the sedan's windshield and exploded, spewing white-hot glass and metal fragments across the driver and a bodyguard in the front seat. Rafizaden and an aide in the back ducked down and were spared the worst of the blast. The move bought them only moments of life.
A second rocket ripped the Mercedes' roof open, showering both the Pasdaran commander and the younger officer with lethal splinters. Then the first RPG gunner, hurriedly reloading, fired again. This third warhead streaked downward and exploded deep inside the vehicle, turning it into a shapeless pyre.
Defense Ministry, Tehran
General Amir Taleh supervised the last-minute arrangements for the Supreme Defense Council meeting personally.
It was a sign of the mullahs' confusion that they were unable to prevent him from hosting the gathering here on his own ground. Like the armed forces, their ranks had been thinned by the American missile strikes. Many of the ruling faction's top men were dead—buried beneath the rubble of the Parliament building and other official ministries. Power had been lost and gained, and political alignments were in flux.
Taleh stood near the door to the conference room, watching his nervous aides hurriedly arranging the maps and other briefing materials he'd ordered prepared. This was to be a critical meeting, one that would change the course of the Islamic Revolution, possibly even deciding its ultimate success or failure, and along with it the survival of Iran as a state. It was clear that changes were needed. Taleh understood that, even if the faqih did not.
Captain Kazemi appeared at the door to the meeting room, quietly waiting to be noticed. Taleh nodded to him, and the young officer strode over to the general, doing his best to look calm.
"Sir, we've just heard from the police. There's been an attack on General Rafizaden's car. He's dead."
Taleh's eyes narrowed. "Go on."
The staff clustered around Kazemi as he recounted the first reports flowing in: The convoy ferrying the new head of the Revolutionary Guards to the conference had been smashed in a swift, violent street ambush—wiped out by automatic-weapons fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The only clues to the crime were some pamphlets scattered over the scene. Written in Kirmanji, they demanded independence for Kurdistan.
Taleh sighed audibly, and inside, the knot of tension almost disappeared. "Very well, Captain. We'll move the meeting back an hour. The Pasdaran will need some time to appoint new representatives."
Kazemi asked, "Should we cancel the session altogether?"
Taleh shook his head. "No, Farhad, everyone else is already en route. Unless the Imam directs otherwise, we will meet."
He glared at the rest of his staff. "There's nothing we can do about Rafizaden. Everyone, back to your tasks."
The cluster of officers and civilians dissolved. Taleh turned back to his aide. "Do the police have any clues to the assassins' identity?"
Kazemi shook his head. "Nothing much. Nothing more than a description of well-armed men in civilian clothes. The entire attack was over in just a minute or two. They promised to send anything else they find to our intelligence office."
Taleh allowed himself a small smile. "Good. Carry on, Farhad. You know your orders."
The captain nodded crisply and hurried away.
The general also nodded, but inside, to himself. Over the next few weeks Kazemi would make sure that the Special Forces troops involved were transferred to other units in other provinces. As highly experienced soldiers they would be welcomed by their new commanders. At the same time, Taleh's net of die-hard loyalists in the Army would grow.
That was a sideshow, though. The most important thing was that Rafizaden was dead, and the Pasdaran would be confused and leaderless.
- On Sale
- Mar 15, 1996
- Page Count
- 496 pages
- Grand Central Publishing