The notorious Palestinian terrorist, Wadi Haddad, meets his Russian controller in a submarine at night in the Gulf of Aden. Trouble ahead. Impatient and want to read more? China Sea by Stanton Swafford is available on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes, Kobo, B&N and Google Play Books.
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The Gulf of Aden
The sky at one o’clock in the morning, 136 miles west of the Yemeni island of Socotra, was pitch dark. There may have been a sliver of a moon. If so, the acrid haze that blew north from the Horn of Africa disguised it. There were no other lights as far as the eye could see.
The Suez Canal remained closed as it had for the past six years, as payback for the Egyptians’ defeat in the 1967 war with Israel. This had once been a busy shipping lane with scores of merchant ships sailing to and from the Canal. No longer. A small vessel at this time could wallow in the middle of the Gulf of Aden unobserved, day or night. And that was why the fishing trawler without a national flag or a name was here, gliding over the swells at a speed of four knots.
The trawler displayed no running lights, as a precaution. The single navigation light shining on the craft rode atop the fifty-foot mast. The commander of the vessel, his foreign guest and the five Palestinian crew members were silent as they scanned the horizon. The wizened commander stood erect and held a flashlight and a compass at his side.
“Wadi, over there, to the left. I think I see it,” the mate beside him whispered in Arabic.
The forty-five year old commander’s eyes were not good. He was loath to wear spectacles around his men, and especially in front of his guest. He gazed into the distance off the port side of the trawler. The men waited. At last others saw the sinister profile of a submarine a few miles off the port bow.
“I see it, Ahmad,” the commander said.
Wadi Haddad switched on the flashlight and blinked the recognition signal in the direction of the submarine. The sub flashed back a reply from the top of its tall black superstructure. One could barely perceive the dark shape of the Foxtrot-class submarine as it approached on the surface. When it was near, the crew noticed that B-427 was painted in white onto the sub’s black superstructure.
The commander held the Soviet submarine in view through his binoculars.
“Open the hatches,” he ordered. “Prepare to take on cargo. Ahmad, get the lines ready.” The sub was now less than one mile distant, approaching port side.
Wadi Haddad’s Russian code name was Natsionalist. The KGB didn’t know he knew.
He uttered to himself, “All profess to be nationalists.”
Wadi pondered on the most fickle creed of all. Muslim nationalism. It stretched from distant Indonesia to Pakistan, into Afghanistan and through the Arab and Persian worlds. The clashing Sunnis and Shiites who hated each other. And onward, west to North Africa and the south of Russia. So many unconnected races and cultures in disarray, cultures with little in common with each other except for the pillars of Islam, if that.
And he reflected on Arab nationalism. Nasser had tried and failed. There were too many rivalries and jealousies in the mix. And leaders who loathed each other. And who paid lip service to Palestine’s cause, Palestine’s liberation.
“There is but one true nationalism, the only meaningful one: Palestine.” Wadi Haddad sneered, and ground his decaying teeth.
The commander had been born in what today is northern Israel. The term Israel made his blood boil. His family’s home had been destroyed in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war when he was twenty-one years old. They fled to Lebanon. Wadi had battled against Israel, as a guerilla in the underground, for the past nine years. The KGB recruited him in 1970.
“Prepare to toss the lines,” the mate shouted in Arabic.
Two Russian sailors appeared on the rocking deck of the submarine. Thick mooring lines were thrown to the sailors on the sub.
“Set the fenders. Hurry up.”
Rubber truck tires were dropped between the trawler and the submarine to prevent the vessels from coming into direct contact.
Commander Wadi looked on. He thought of the times he had performed this maneuver in the past three years. Five, six times? Always with a submarine. Always the same KGB officer, the infidel who called himself Vladimir. The Russian would signal him to come over to the sub, not an easy trick on a pitching sea. Vladimir never dared to crawl over to the trawler. Another reason Wadi crossed to the submarine was because of the alcohol that his case officer swilled during their meetings. His crew would not have been comfortable with that.
Vladimir stood at the top of the superstructure with a flashlight. He turned it on and pointed it at Wadi’s feet, motioning for him to come over. A narrow metal ladder was stretched from the sub to the trawler and, as always, Wadi crossed to the submarine like a dog on all fours. He spat into the sea and recalled the expression, ‘Beggars can’t be choosers’, then banished that thought. Vladimir was waiting for him, alone, at a table in the officers’ mess.
The first thing Wadi noticed was that, as usual, the vain Russian had his shirt unbuttoned, showing off his muscular white physique, and feigning it was because of the heat. Wadi knew his own build was sickly by contrast. He could just make out the strange tattoo on Vladimir’s powerful chest. The drawing of a dagger, a Muslim Kris.
Wadi greeted the Russian officer in Arabic. Vladimir replied in the same language, and asked, pro-forma, if the commander was well as he poured himself a glassful of vodka from the half-empty bottle that had been in the middle of the table.
“Join me, Wadi?” the Russian asked in Arabic. He pushed a shot glass across to the Palestinian, and stared at him with watery blue eyes.
Wadi Haddad stared back with a caustic glare. The Russian knew well that he did not drink alcohol. This was the same ritual they went through at every one of their meetings – Vladimir would push a small glass of vodka at him, and he would decline it.
“I’ll pass,” he muttered.
“All right then,” the Russian continued unabashed, “here is the packing list for the weapons we are supplying you tonight.” He slid the list across the table. Wadi snatched it up and read it.
150 AK-47 Rifles
10 Shoulder-Fired Surface to Air Missiles
20 Beretta 9mm Handguns with silencers
50 Anti-tank grenades and RPG-7 launchers
100 Radio controlled mines
50 Sets of Night Vision Goggles
60 Gallons of fuel for the Trawler
The Palestinian nodded after reading the list. “This is what we were expecting. No more, no less.” He tucked the packing list into his pants pocket.
“Good. Now let’s review our operations – past and future. I understand you have a guest aboard your fishing boat, one who is known as Carlos the Jackal. Why did you not bring him with you to the submarine tonight?” The Russian held a grin in place.
Wadi shrugged. “He wishes to keep a low profile. If you want, you can crawl over to the trawler on your hands and knees and make his acquaintance.”
“Not necessary, my friend. I understand that you are training him in your methods. Am I correct?”
“Yes. In Baalbek.”
“You know, Wadi, my people relish plane hijackings, like the ones you pulled off three years ago. Those airliners you snatched in one week and landed in Jordan. What were they? TWA, BOAC, Pan Am, Swissair? And then you blew up the planes on the ground. Brilliant.” The Russian chortled and drained his glass of vodka. He believed his Arabic became more fluent, less inhibited, the more he drank.
The Palestinian replied with a baleful look on his face, “Yes, that is what we did. It was a great success.”
“Okay.” The Russian drummed his fingers on the table. “We supply the weapons. And the cash. Can we expect more activity in the future from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine? My people want to know your plans. Deploying this submarine to arm your group is expensive, and risky. Understand, we want to see results. We want the world to see the events in newspapers and on television. We need to terrify them – the Americans, Europeans, and the Israelis. Don’t get complacent, my dear Wadi. In today’s world, when nuclear arms have made military force obsolete, terrorism should become our main weapon.” The Russian was no longer grinning.
“Trust me, Vladimir. With Carlos the Jackal we are going international. The massacre in Munich last year and the one in Ma’alot this year should have pleased you, did it not? Have patience. We must plan carefully.”
“We know a thing or two about careful planning,” Vladimir mumbled in Russian. He poured himself another glassful of vodka, his fourth. He stared at the Palestinian and shrugged his shoulders. “That is all I have to say, Wadi.” They stared at each other, neither trusting, nor particularly liking the other.
“Then I shall return to my boat. I can show myself out.” Wadi stood, reached for the packing list in his rear pocket, and left the room.
Vladimir remained seated at the table and sipped his drink, satisfied that he had pulled off yet another successful arms transfer and meeting with his agent, the most dangerous terrorist in the world. The irony, no one in the West knew this Palestinian’s name. The Russian, intoxicated now, laughed to himself. He absent-mindedly buttoned his shirt, covering his chest and the tattoo.
Wadi crawled back to the trawler on the ladder and was helped aboard by the mate and the Jackal. He glanced forward and noted that the hatches had been closed, the cargo loaded.
“Cast off,” he ordered, “Set your course to the Red Sea at full speed.”
The fishing trawler would sail north through the Red Sea until it reached the Gulf of Aqaba. At the port of Aqaba the cargo would be loaded onto waiting trucks, under cover of darkness. They would drive north through Jordan, parallel to the Israeli border, until they reached Syria and then Lebanon. Vladimir had issued Wadi sufficient cash to make pay-offs at the borders. Final destination: Baalbek, Lebanon.