“Play up! Play up! And play the game!”
Afarin was in cover, carefully scrutinising the shimmering, broken landscape ahead of them and the distant low olive trees. Through the field glasses, the ground sloped down from left to right and it was covered by tough grasses, that the goats still managed to munch at. There was a dispersed flock of them forward. Efrayim was hunkered down next to her, a comforting presence, his radio ready for when she would need it. She could just make out the odd Mitznefet helmet cover of the other sections in cover behind some trees and shrubs. She looked at her watch and then at Efrayim, who nodded.
“Good luck, shefela,” he said and handed her the radio handset.
“All sections move!”
Dan’s section moved forward cautiously while Zelig’s moved into fire positions, the Negev LMGs covering their flanks. It was textbook stuff and Dan’s experience as a paratrooper shone through, each one of his section, moving from cover to cover and then they were down and finding fire positions.
Zelig’s moved forward cautiously and it was her signal to advance her section, half at a time. Soon she was lathered in sweat and was beginning to understand just how difficult being an infantry NCO was. She was grateful to have Efrayim by her side, and Hoffman seemed quite close as well. That wasn’t so comforting.
They covered the ground at a steady pace and just as Afarin thought she had a handle on things. Events spiralled quickly out of control. They were moving through the olive groves, when automatic fire engaged Zelig’s section, which immediately went into cover and started to return the fire.
“Contact, wait out.”
Afarin went to stand up and Efrayim pulled her down, “Wait! Let the other sections deal with it and don’t get sucked in. If they need help, they will call for it. Observe, but keep your head down.”
Hoffman nodded gently, missing nothing.
She parted some of the grass and watched the action ahead of her. Zelig’s section was the foot on the ground laying down covering fire, while Dan’s section was conducting a flanking manoeuvre on the enemy forces. Efrayim handed her the radio handpiece. Dan’s voice sounded slightly breathless.
“Charlie from Alpha. We have around eight hostiles positioned in a drainage channel.”
“Afarin looked at the map, “Roger.”
“We will advance under smoke.”
She watched him throw a smoke grenade and white smoke billowed up out of the olive trees. Zelig’s section ceased fire as Dan advanced for the fight through. There was a fusillade of firing as Dan’s section hit the enemy from their right flank. Presently she heard a radio message, “All sections from Alpha. The enemy position is neutralised. Moving forward again.”
“Charlie section, move.”
After around five-hundred metres, there had been no mishaps, but it had taken nearly forty-five minutes. They were at the edge of a large orange grove and up ahead were broken walls and the two sides of a wrecked building. The lead section was just coming out of the trees, when the rapid machine gun fire of an M60 General Purpose Machine Gun opened up from the buildings.
“Charlie from Bravo Section, contact, wait, out.”
Afarin made sure all her section were in cover, while Dan’s section was laying down covering fire.
“Charlie from Bravo sections. Coming under heavy enemy fire. Enemy forces at least twenty, plus gunfire support.”
“Get them back into cover.” Efrayim said quietly to her. It wasn’t lost on Hoffman.
“All sections from Charlie. Move back into cover in the woods. Alpha section leading, Bravo section providing covering fire and smoke.”
Up ahead there was one hell of a firefight and the M60 increased its fire. She watched Dan’s section take cover behind a hummock and some low trees and then saw Zelig’s section pull back into cover.
“Alpha section commander, on me.”
Dan sprinted back and reported to Afarin. She noticed that his camouflage cream had run down his face with the sweat and he looked like a ghoul.
“We’re not going to shift them. They are in well prepared positions.”
“In that case…” The moment she had been dreading had arrived. She examined the map, measuring distances with her compass. The range officer stood over her.
“Come on! Stop fucking around and maintain the pace of the advance. Do what you have to do!”
She looked at Efrayim who handed her the radio handset
“Go back to your section, Dan. All your troops well in cover.”
She closed her eyes and keyed the mike, “Olive Mount, Olive Mount, this is Neve Daniel. Message, over.”
There was just static on the radio. “Olive Mount, Olive Mount, this is Neve Daniel. Message, over.”
“Take your hand off the microphone. He can’t answer you otherwise.” Efrayim said and smacked her arm, “Come on, Mench. You can do this.”
The pilot’s voice was that of a woman and Afarin was surprised. She sounded unhurried and composed, “Neve Daniel, go ahead, over.”
“Request air support at grid Delta Six. Specific target ruined hamlet east of the woods.”
“Err, roger Neve Daniel. Target grid Delta Six. Coming in from your south.”
“Olive Mount, do not release on the woods west of the target.”
Afarin must have sounded slightly panicky, because the pilot chuckled, “Don’t worry, sweetheart. I won’t even ruffle your hair,”
“All sections from Alpha. In cover! In cover.”
Presently they heard the sound of jet engines and saw an F16 Sufa sweeping out to the east and turning into the target. It released chaff and flares as it lined up on the hamlet, travelling impossibly fast. It was above the trees, when two black objects wobbled from the wings. Afarin was transfixed.
I called it in, me, the little girl from Derby telling a pilot what to do. You get that Flight Sergeant Fuckwit. I told a pilot what to do…
A strong hand suddenly rammed her head down and she tasted dirt.
“Keep your pretty head down you stupid Tipsha. None of us wish to be covered with your brains, that’s assuming you have some!”
The jet engines were visceral and seemed to make the ground shake then the ground reared up as the two 500 kg demolished the hamlet. There was a wave of positive pressure that raced towards them, sweeping dust and leaves from the olive trees. The overpressure made her ears feel like someone was sticking a poker in them.
“Fuck the fuck! Afarin yelled as stones and bricks rained down on them. Instinctively she opened he mouth.
The F16 circled the area and Afarin realised that the two lead sections were moving forward again.
“Let’s move!” Afarin yelled at her section and they were up and moving forward. She spoke in the radio as she doubled forward, “Olive Mount, Olive Mount, this is Neve Daniel. Message, over.”
“Go ahead, Neve Daniel.”
“All part of the service, Neve Daniel. I have two times five-hundred Golf Papa and fifteen minutes on loiter. Olive Mount, listening, out.”
What does five-hundred Golf, Papa mean?” she asked Efrayim.
“It means the pilot as two times five-hundred general purpose bombs left on the weapons mounts.”
“What happened to the people firing at us?”
“They got the hell out of it,” Hoffman explained, “They do this at least twice a week and signal to the pilot when they-re clear. Red smoke means abort the attack.”
“And the goats?”
“They were moved out of the beaten zone by our goat handler. There’s a tunnel they can go into, so no goats were harmed.”
They had captured their objective, Tamir Glazer and Afarin put all of the sections in all-round defence, then radioed that the objective had been taken.
“Get some water in you,” she said bustling around the sections like a wife. Hoffman smiled and waved Efrayim over to him.
“What do you think?”
They walked away down the line of a ruined wall.
“You tend to forget she has only completed the most rudimentary infantry training in the British air force. I had to help her on a couple of occasions, but I bet we’ll need to help Gad and Heyfa.”
Hoffman nodded thoughtfully, “Would you fight with her in real combat. Would you follow her?”
Efrayim smiled, “Yes I would. She is brave and a real fighter.”
“It will be Gad this afternoon. Will you man the radio for him?”
“Of course, I will. Same for all of them.”
“OK, let’s liven things up. Thank you Efrayim”
They were joined by one of the range officers, and they moved into the trees while Efrayim re-joined his section.
“What did Hoffman want?”
“He asked me how I think you were in the lead.” He realised lying was pointless.
“What did you tell him?”
“I told him that you did all right for a shiksa, ”
“I’m nobody’s bloody shiksa!”
“Really?” Efrayim said and looked around. Gad was staring at her with an intensity that amused him.
“Oh no, not you as well.”
“Just go with the flow, Afarin. Whatever will be will be.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re all so bloody amused. It’s like being back at school!”
“It’s just a bit of light relief in a job that is deadly dangerous.”
“You lot make me laugh. Poor Gad, being the butt of… Hello, what’s going on here?”
She watched one of the range officers go over to Aisha and speak to her, looking at the ruined dwelling. Aisha walked towards an opening in the wall and the other range officer approached it, carrying something in his hand.
Aisha went inside, the range officer tossed something after her and there was a huge flash and bang from inside the building. Almost immediately, there was screaming from just inside the door. Batya pulled up her medical bergen and ran towards the ruins.
“Batya, stand still!” Afarin yelled. “Dan, check the inside of the building for booby traps. Ignore that bloody screeching.”
He came back out after a couple of minutes, “Clear.”
“OK, Batya and Gad go in and pull her out on the folding stretcher.”
While Batya conducted a survey on the screaming Aisha, the other range officer sauntered over to Afarin, “What are you doing, allowing your personnel to go wondering around aimlessly?”
She turned on him with fury, “She wasn’t wondering around aimlessly! She was told to go in by your fucking pal, who then lobbed a flash-bang into the building. I watched the fucking prick do it.”
Hoffman turned away. He was quietly laughing.
The first range officer said to Batya: “She has a traumatic amputation of both lower limbs below the knees and is bleeding out.”
Batya loosely tied two tourniquets just below Aisha’s knees, “Section commander, we need a helicopter evac for this casualty, Priority one.”
Afarin turned to the range officer, “Well you heard her. Get on your pretend radio to one of your pretend medical evac helicopters and a pretend medical team to pick up my pretend casualty. Please, if you would be so kind.”
“You can stop screaming now. There’s no need to be sarcastic. That’s it. Endex. Well done for what it’s worth.”
Afarin realised that she hadn’t fired her weapon and had the impression she had been running around with her arse on fire. She was very thirsty and hungry, but she made sure all of the others in the sections were all right and told them to eat while they could. Hoffman was watching her and it was very disconcerting. He waved her over and they walked into the shadow of some olive trees and sat down.
“Have a drink of water,” He noticed that she had two water bottle carriers on her Ephod combat vest, “Did you learn to carry extra water in Afghanistan? Did the SAS tell you to?”
She guzzled half a bottle and it was running down from her mouth.
“Yes. We would patrol well into the next day, overnighting at a vehicle Laager. It was so cold at nights that we had to cuddle in together for warmth.”
“I bet they liked that.”
She shrugged, “I did.”
“How do you think it went?” he asked.
“No, today, tipsha.”
“I’ll be honest with you, Staff sergeant Hoffman. I would have been lost without Efrayim and I relied heavily on him to keep me on the straight and narrow.”
“Efrayim is a good soldier. It makes perfect sense to use his expertise. What would you do differently on another occasion?”
Afarin thought about it, “I would have briefed everyone together and I would try harder not to get sucked into the actions of the other sections. Oh, and I would remember to take my hand off the radio’s transmit button, so the pilot can talk to me. I think generally it went OK. Nobody got killed, apart from the incident with the stun grenade that was thrown into the building by that bell-end.”
Hoffman smiled, ”OK, relax Ms Khan. You did all right. A few bumpy patches, but Efrayim thinks you’re steady and so do I. Now, as you’re aware I have duty of care for all of you. Have you sorted out your differences with Dan?”
“Yes, the fight cleared the air.”
“It was brutal. Was that level of violence really necessary?”
“Yes. He wasn’t going to let it go. He is actually nice to me now.”
“What was it about?”
“I’d rather not say, Staff Sergeant.”
“Well, if you don’t, I’ll just ask him.”
“Please don’t. All right. Are you aware Dan was dating an Arab girl?”
“Well, she was a student and left him to go into the West Bank. She looked a bit like me, well a lot like me, only prettier. He was punishing his girlfriend through me.”
He doubted that she was.
“Do you all get on now?” Hoffman asked.
“Yes, they don’t see me as a Muslim any more, just one of the team.”
“Interesting that you call yourself a Muslim and not an Arab.”
Hoffman delved into his day sack and pulled out an Israeli ration pack that was Halal. She smiled opened it and attacked a bag of Mexican tuna with pasta.
“Thank you,” she said with a full mouth. She finished a couple more mouthfuls then answered him, “That’s because I am not an Arab. We despise Arabs and trace our linage to Genghis Khan.”
“Have you made any friends, Afarin?”
“They are all my friends. We are a family.”
“Some are more friendly than others. Like Heyfa for example?”
Afarin looked mortified, but Hoffman smiled at her, “It is completely understandable. You and she are not Jews. You are both a long way from home and as I said right at the beginning, some of you will almost inevitably form relationships. Israel is a most tolerant country when it comes to same sex relationships and that includes the military. In Iran, they hang homosexuals from cranes and stone lesbians to death.”
“I’m not normally a… A…”
“You felt alone is a strange country, just as Heyfa did. Enjoy the intimacy, because life is hard and bloody.”
He looked round the ranges, “You may find this part of the training boring and repetitive. In some ways it will, but we want, that’s Israel wants, is all round military personnel, who can honestly say they are the best soldiers in the world. I know you have served in an undercover role, but Gad, Aisha and Heyfa haven’t and we want them to fight the fear they will feel, as you know.”
Afarin looked at her boots, dusty and scuffed with Hoffman’s bête noir. Paracord laces.
“I felt fear in Basra, almost paralysing fear when the Iranians came to kill us and capture me.” She said in a quiet voice, suddenly very small.”
He listened intently, “And how did you cope?”
“Do you want to know something that I feel ashamed about?”
“I enjoyed it. I’ve never felt so alive than when I was fighting for my life. I know that eventually I will die in some corner of the world, fighting for a country I love, although its people probably wouldn’t look at me twice. I look in the mirror and see an ugly, little awghool . They probably think I’m an illegal immigrant, or some girl from the old country, shipped in to marry her cousin. So, I fight and it’s the only thing I’m any good at. No man will ever look at me.”
“I thought you were having a relationship with a man from your Secret Intelligence Service. He must like you a lot.”
“It will never last. I can’t give him what he wants.”
“How do you know?”
Afarin thought about it, “I don’t.”
Hoffman stared at her intently, “Do you know what I see, tipsha? I see a beautiful young woman who has an attitude the size of a planet.”
He stood up.
“Why do you call me a tipsha? I’m not stupid,” she asked.
“It’s what I call my daughter as a term of endearment. You were right in the beginning for the wrong reasons. What is a bell-end?”
“You have one. It’s probably been circumcised.”
He laughed and walked away, repeating: “bell-end.”
a shiksa – Refers to a non-Jewish woman who is either romantically interested in a Jewish man or who is a Jewish man’s object of affection. The shiksa represents an exotic “other” to the Jewish man, someone who is theoretically forbidden and, thus, incredibly desirable.
awghool – Derogatory term for an Afghan girl.
© Blown Periphery 2022