The publishing house "Knizhniki" publishes a book by journalist Matti Friedman "Rootless Spies: Secret Fates at the Origins of Israel" about the first spies in the history of Israel. She gives the impression of a cleverly twisted spy novel, but she describes the very real facts. The four agents at the center of the narrative were part of a reconnaissance squad created during World War II. All four were from Arab countries, like many other members of the unit, nicknamed the Arab Section. With this unit, the story of the Mossad, Israel's world-renowned political intelligence agency, begins. The book "Rootless Spies" shows the versatility and complexity of Israel, which considers itself a Western country, but in many ways lives by the traditions of the Middle East. Novye Izvestia publishes a small chapter from this book:
"While the bomb was being assembled, Yakuba conducted reconnaissance of Arab checkpoints, through one of which they had to drive on the way to the auto repair shop. There were three such checkpoints. He drove up to the guard, greeted her amiably, started a conversation in Arabic, left, then returned. The task was to accustom the sentries to themselves. The more the fighting flared up in recent weeks, the more difficult it became to cross the dividing line. “Contact with the Arabs has suffered greatly”, a Jewish intelligence officer reported, reporting interactions with Arab informers who had previously worked with the news service. - The contact was interrupted by the Arabs, who are afraid to keep it; roads are closed; Jaffa and Tel Aviv are almost completely cut off. Several Arabs associated with us have been arrested". The reconnaissance needed no man's land between the sides. But now those were disappearing.
One of the consequences of this was the frequent use of disguise and makeup, which exacerbated the paranoia. One of the Jewish intelligence documents indicated the use of British military uniforms by Arab militants to infiltrate Jewish areas. It also said: "One has to assume that they can pretend to be Jews." This has already happened: when in 1944 the Nazis threw a German-Arab sabotage group into Palestine, one of the Arab agents posed as a Jew who spoke Arabic.
“Any outsider, even an Arab, who appeared in Jaffa, the old quarters of Jerusalem, Ramla and other Arab areas, aroused suspicion and became the object of surveillance”, - teacher Saman wrote in an internal document about the first months of the 1948 war. He knew about the unpreparedness of his people and tried to carve out more time for their preparation. The teacher liked to repeat the Arabic proverb: "Haste is from the devil, patience is from the Merciful." But the war broke out, there was no time left. The devil ruled the ball.
On Saturday morning, two cars drove from the Jewish sector down to the Lower, Arab city. Yakuba was driving in front of him in a mined car, behind him, bumper to bumper, Itzhak was rolling: he firmly grabbed the steering wheel and did not change gear, because he couldn’t, and he was driving first.
At the first RCMP, on Allenby Street, the guards recognized Yakubu.
“The second car is with me,” Yakuba answered.
They also crossed the second checkpoint without incident, but at the third they were stopped. Yakuba adhered to the tactic of always speaking louder than the interlocutor, and the first. It confused the other side. He leaned out the window.
- Where did you come? He shouted at the sentry. - Where is the old one?
- I went to eat, I'm replacing him, - sounded in response.
- Look at both! - advised Yakuba, pretending to be an Arab militant. - The car behind me is ours.
So they overcame the third barrier. We arrived at the auto repair shop. Yitzhak parked in front of the gate, Yakuba drove inside. There were several other cars in the yard; an ambulance with a bright red cross on the side stood in the same place, near the canopy. Yakuba stopped the car to her left. From somewhere, a trio of mechanics immediately jumped out and began yelling at him to get out.
- Wait a minute... what's the matter? - Yakuba got out of the car to play for time. He did not expect such a rapid development of events.
The mechanics were clearly worried. They were not interested in his arguments.
- Get the car away! One shouted.
- Wait, I have a question. Here's the deal...
- Don't give a damn! First, clean the car, then we'll talk.
Yakuba got behind the wheel again, put in reverse gear, drove around the ambulance and stopped to the right of it. He muffled the engine, got out again. They yelled at him again, but he pretended to be deaf and demanded a senior.
- Who's in charge here? Have you gone to eat? Is there somewhere to eat nearby?..
There was no end in sight, but he was running out of time.
Yitzhak, sitting in the car outside the gate, could only guess what was going on inside, in the yard. He understood that something had gone wrong there. He had an order to leave if his partner didn't come out in ten minutes. Ten minutes have already passed.
The mechanics asked Yakuba where he was from, he replied that he was from Jaffa - the agents always answered that way when they acted in Haifa. In Jaffa, they said that they had come from Haifa. He switched to screaming, and it was not a pretense, but fear: fear of being caught, fear of failure. Dozens of lives were at stake.
- Well, you are stupid! He yelled at the mechanics. - Go to hell! Ignorant! - And so on that just came to mind.
The mechanics shouted down to him anyway; I had to get into the car again and pretend that he was leaving now. He didn't know what to do. But they turned away, deciding that they got rid of him, and that was enough: he took out pliers from the glove compartment and crushed the flask with them. Acid flowed into the condom. He had seven minutes at his disposal.
He opened the door for the last time.
- At least give me a drink?
One of the mechanics casually pointed to the water tap. Yakuba stepped to the crane, but instead of stopping, he jumped out of the gate into the street. The Oldsmobil hadn't left yet, it was just humming its engine. The Palmachian Code put friendship above orders, so Itzhak did not even think of leaving. He moved to the passenger seat because now a real driver was needed.
Yakuba jumped behind the wheel, slapped Itzhak on the knee and pressed the gas pedal to the floor. It seemed like there was still time left, but as soon as they got under way, the earth shook, the car was shaken by a blast wave, it became dark from the dust that filled the air. The people looking down from Mount Carmel thought that an atomic bomb had exploded in the Lower City. Immediately after the monstrous explosion, there was a deafening silence. The two agents saw in the rearview mirror a black cloud billowing and then slowly settling.
Translated from English by Arkady Kabalkin.