The Galatea came to a halt on the northwestern shore of Great Bitter Lake where a long ridge of piled up sand kept its waters from flooding the little town of Deversoir. Planks were shoved out from the cargo ship and rammed into the face of the sand, permitting Del’s troops to debark.
In the early morning hours, before sunrise, 1,185 members of Bravo Battalion edged up over the top of the dike and surveyed Deversoir, or Duweir Suweir as the Egyptians called it. Each one of Del’s troops wore a $15,000 pair of night-vision goggles, which made the night into day, but only for them.
The canal-crossing operations they observed were intense. Obviously Egypt knew the fragility of the thread on which the entire war now hung. The neglected supplies of water were now their top priority, and therefore Del’s top target.
Del took aim at a water tower with her ATGW and fired. The trick was to keep the target centered in the cross-hairs until it was struck by the missile. This could be tricky with the intense pressures of combat, but Del’s people had earned their reputation by their steely cool under fire. Her missile hit, becoming one of five missiles to hit that tower. In all, twenty-three missiles from Bravo Battalion struck eight steel water tanks or reservoirs. Del dropped the firing mechanism and turned west to start jogging double-time, bending around the lake towards Fayid.
Captain Brand Gonen found a parked water truck in his sights, and successfully took it out before following Del to Fayid. One hundred eight such trucks were destroyed. None of them were armored, certainly not with the 30 centimeters of steel which the ATGWs were capable of penetrating.
Sergeant Binyamin Gafhi fired and hit a raft returning across the mouth of the canal where it entered the Great Bitter Lake, making it unavailable to pick up one of the parked water trucks. Twenty-five such empty rafts were sunk all told.
Private Marina Merom fired her missile. The rocket screamed away, spooling out a fine guidance command wire behind it. Using electrical signals sent down that wire, Marina carefully kept her crosshairs on target and struck a steel aqueduct pipe, hers being one of fifteen hits on the same pipe. It would soon be repaired, but not quickly enough to help the Egyptians trapped in the Sinai.
By this time the Egyptians began to realize the threat was coming from the levee and directed their fire south. The sand erupted with machine gun and mortar fire. Private David Zismann was killed before he could shoot his AGTW, one of ninety-nine personnel who suffered this fate. This casualty rate was unacceptable to Del, and more than anything fueled her resentment at being stripped of her command.
First Lieutenant Meir Eitan struck a parked water truck that was hit by someone else even as he directed his missile in. About fifty rockets were wasted in this same way, two or more rockets on one target. It was bound to happen, given the Battalion’s loose organization at that point, and their orders to pick their own opportunity, fire, and get the hell out of there.
Corporal Dalia Bibi squeezed the trigger on her missile launcher…and nothing happened. The weapon was a dud, along with two hundred ninety-four others. Cursing, she dropped it joined the flood of Bravo personnel running toward Fayid.
Private Uzi Herschson advanced closer to Deversoir to get inside the 2,500 meter range of his weapon. There he struck a raft with a water truck on board, sinking both birds with one stone, so to speak. Sixty-two others managed to pull off the same feat over the next half-hour.
First Lieutenant Noami Meridor, rattled by machine gun rounds dinging the sand nearby, couldn’t keep her target centered and missed. Her missile struck the ground and exploded. Fully three hundred twenty-nine of the ATGW were clean misses, but even so, they contributed to the fog of war and served as suppressing fire to keep the Egyptians from retaliating effectively.
Private Shaul Ben-Elissar didn’t aim for a water truck or a reservoir as he was ordered, instead he directed his rocket at a truck carrying Egyptian troops south to their position. Seventy-four such trucks, with perhaps ten troops each, were destroyed.
Captain Maxim Shahal wiped out a large crane truck which was busy attempting to right a water truck overturned by an earlier blast. Eight of these cranes were destroyed that night.
Sergeant Yossi Levi, who had been one of the nineteen men who swam with Del out to meet Galatea, hit the hardest target of all, a water truck which was moving down a street, attempting to get out of Deversoir to cross the canal somewhere to the north. Ninety-six others in Bravo Battalion carried off this same stunt.
The ATGW attack fell silent. Nearly a thousand wires lay on the sands between the canal and Deversoir. Del’s raid was complete. In roughly a half-hour’s work, she had ensured a swift denouement to the war and would keep the lives of many Israeli soldiers out of danger.
Not all the water supplies were destroyed, but enough to ensure that only the Egyptian officers would taste water in the desert tomorrow. When rumor of this got out, they would have a full-scale mutiny on their hands, and the Egyptian army would disintegrate before the two-pronged advance of Israeli tanks. Racked by demon thirst, entire brigades would willingly surrender to the Israelis just for the hope of a mouthful of water.
But Bravo Battalion never rested on it’s laurels. So what followed was an exhausting night-time run fifteen kilometers across loose sand south to the fighting in Fayid.
Del was among the first of her Battalion to arrive at the town. Soon the Egyptian army realized their troubles had multiplied. Their rear had become chaos of laser fire as they were caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Return fire was mostly ineffective but a few enemy soldiers stood their ground, aimed carefully and took out a few of Del’s people. But the bulk of the Egyptians were already in retreat, moving west on the road to Cairo, and the rest of the Israeli Army was sweeping over these in a general rout, bagging many prisoners.
Brand, surveying the whole scene nodded his head in admiration. His daughter had done it again.
After intimidating the folk in Fayid with laser fire and a few carefully picked explosions Del’s force entered and methodically occupied the village. This was a standard seizure, a play right out of the book. The gruntwork of war. Del could have done it in her sleep. She felt like she did. One of the things that motivated her to take over Fayid was to get at least a few hours of long-delayed shut-eye.
They put up tents, all of them disguised to match the desert landscape. Del authorized six hours of down time, but this amounted to just four hours of sleep. A full third of her men and women were to be on watch as sentries for two hours at a time, and even Del shared in this duty. She took the first watch.
The encryption on IDF two-way radio was compartmentalized. The intense sat- phone traffic flying around the whole Levant did not exist as far as the receiver cared. It was all filtered out. So when they heard the receiver squawk it was automatically for them.
Previously it had only been heard at one hour intervals for the general war update, the latest on how the war was unfolding. Now a call came in specifically for what they were calling “Bravo Recon Detachment.” Brand didn’t respond to the orders that were coming over the radio, but he did locate his daughter and told her Adan wanted her immediate attention.
“Bravo Recon Detachment?” She looked at her father with a grimace. “Detached from Adan. No doubt he believes his own bolshevik.” When Brand held out the device to her she objected, saying, “They can triangulate us on that!”
“He orders us to immediately stop.”
“She grabbed the handset from him suddenly, with snarling violence. This is Major Gonen, roger, over.”
“Major, this is Colonel Adan. I assume your chief staff officer has relayed my order for you to halt, over?”
“Yes sir. We have indeed stopped for the night, over.”
“You will relay your position, over.”
“Sir, no doubt your equipment has our position by now.”
“You will stand fast until I arrive.”
“Respectfully, sir, we’re on the clock. Arab-Israeli Wars only come around maybe five, six times in a lifetime. Major Gonen out.” Then she dropped the radio on the ground and crushed it under her boot.
“He’ll wonder if you’re going to follow his order to halt, Del.”
“We are following the order,” she said. “But let him wonder.” And she wandered off to stand the first watch for two hours before falling asleep in a “borrowed” house.
While Del slept, Brand received another two dozen men from the original Bravo Battalion who had deserted their units to fight once more with their beloved commander. The word on the street was Lt. Colonel David Shazar had found out about the desertions and had put a special watch on the former Bravo Battalion boys and girls. There wasn’t likely to be any more. Brand was content to know they were all safe now.
Time to wake the boss after a glorious four hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Del answered her father’s insistent knocking. “There’s a major who says he’s here to relieve you. He says he’s got orders for you to return to Suez City.
“Damn.” She rubbed her head vigorously, standing her hair on end. “Very well, father, give me a few moments,” she said through a yawn and turned back into the house.
Ten minutes later, with a quick thank-you note in Arabic script left on the door, she rejoined Brand in the center of town where her surviving people were standing at attention in a single rank, thirty rows of thirty.
Major Yeshayahn Haim introduced himself and handed her a packet with her orders, which she quickly read.
She turned to address her people in a loud, clear voice. “It seems this is the end of the road for me. There were things I did which could be called ‘high-handed,’ but I did them all to accomplish our mission, and above all, to preserve the lives of the men and women of this battalion, with whom I have never been more proud to serve than over the last four days. I ask that you show Major Haim the same ‘Follow Me’ spirit that has made Bravo Battalion the undisputed best. Thank you all, and take care.”
With an exchange of salutes Major Haim accepted the transfer of command of Bravo Battalion. As Del departed the scene, the discipline of the Battalion relaxed just a little, and they broke out into spontaneous applause.
The ride south was in a CH-46 twin rotor helicopter, flying very low over the desert. Del could feel the whole airframe of the chopper twisting and wiggling as it flew. She tried not to think of what was to come.
Brigadier General Shmuel Gavish had taken over the Suez governorate building from Colonel Motti Adan. An American officer was present, as well as Colonel Adan, who was briefing General Gavish on Del’s alleged misdeeds. “By her own admission Major Del Gonen deliberately deviated from the Prime Minister’s Scimitar Plan, sir. Well speak of the devil, here she is now.”
Del stopped two paces before the generals desk, and they exchanged a salute. He said, “Major Gonen, Colonel Adan here says you deliberately altered the Scimitar plan. What do you have to say in your defense?”
“The country is out of danger, sir.”
“Thanks to the American nuke. That still doesn’t excuse your insubordination for the sake of insubordination. You have become popular, Major, but Israel is asking you to serve the country, not your own ego.”
“General, that was neither a nuke, nor American. It was Astrodyne. I ordered a clean gamma ray airburst, using technology neither the US nor Israel have.”
That had the effect of silencing both the general and the colonel. The US officer present in the room, clad in desert brown, could only let loose a slow appreciative whistle. He did not contradict Del.
She looked at all of them in wonder. “Oh, I see. None of you officers realized our country needed a political buffer, a space for plausible deniability. Imagine the outcry if Israel had nuked that column herself. This way condemnation for breaking the nuke taboo in place since World War Two falls on Astrodyne alone.”
The Colonel, General, and the American colonel were literally speechless, so Del continued her defense.
“Aside from the antimatter airburst which blunted the Egyptian thrust into the Negev, sir, it was Astrodyne who tracked the column of seventeen hundred Egyptian tanks and fourteen hundred APCs as they crossed into the Sinai and it is was Astrodyne who took out the Ismailia Bridge with orbit-to-ground kinetic rounds.”
Del’s litany was entirely a lie, since it was really Hashmal Suriel who did the tracking and Sar Adnarel who did the bombing, but for Del’s purposes it suited her to say it was Astrodyne, and perhaps in a roundabout way it was true. Certainly the Exiler shared Astrodyne’s aims.
Del continued. “It is Astrodyne, sir, who even now continues to knock out the enemy’s pontoon bridges as soon as they put them up. All of these actions were planned and ordered by me. The Egyptians had quite a formidable system of overlapping SAM coverage around their bridgehead. Without support by Astrodyne, which Israel has enjoyed since 1967, by the way, it would have cost the country many planes and many lives. So that is what I’ve been doing, sir, and all this besides assailing the enemy at Deversoir and al-Fayid, which caused them to abort their bridgehead operations over the canal. Certainly you already knew about that, sir, or has Colonel Adan been remiss?”
Into the awkward quiet space Del tilted forward and placed a sheet of paper on the general’s desk smartly. This was her letter of resignation, and she announced that it was so.
“With all due respect, General, I cannot continue to serve under Colonel Adan. I consider it an unpardonable sin to strip Bravo Battalion from me and force men and women I know and care about into a meat-grinder of his own making while my father and I were ordered to the sidelines during what will probably be the last war Zahal will ever be asked to fight.”
Sir, Adan interjected, “General Gavish, sir, I judged her alteration of Plan Scimitar to be a serious breach of discipline, and administratively placed her and her chief of staff on suspension right after Suez City was made secure.”
“Consider my resignation my way of ratifying your suspension,” Del said.
For the first time General Gavish was learning that for the critical hours of the war Del had been under Adan’s orders to do absolutely nothing. He launched into a tirade against Adan intended to bring sufficient satisfaction to Del that she might withdraw her resignation. In reply Del simply pushed herself away, rendered her best salute, removed the major’s insignia at her collar, and departed without looking back once.