December 1977–Preparation for the US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance Visit to Israel | The Middle East Peace Initiative
Our driver Ben sped along the downtown avenue in the center of Tel Aviv on his way to Jerusalem. S.Y. Agent Halliday, not in a talkative mood this morning, sipped on his coffee.
<feature photo by en.wikipedia.org
“I will take highway one to Jerusalem,” Ben confirmed in the rearview, as he negotiated the busy thoroughfare of the city that belonged in Europe, not the Middle East.
“We’re looking for a tall hotel or office building along highway one between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem,” Halliday said.
“My brother runs a hotel in the mountains west of Jerusalem,” Ben said, raising his hands. “It has tremendous view toward Tel Aviv… I’m not sure about Jerusalem.”
I had looked at maps. The hilly terrain was about two thirds of the way to Jerusalem and might be a good spot for a Radio repeater installation. I nodded to Halliday and said, “Let’s take a look at it.”
An hour later we stood on the hotel roof. It was only about ten stories but situated on high elevation. From here the motorcade should be able to communicate with parts of Jerusalem. Surrounded by Agent Halliday, Ben, his brother, and a building maintenance man I made a decision, “We’ll install the antenna atop that vent pipe.”
I pointed and added, “Do you have a secure room to install the radio in within twenty meters?”
The maintenance man took us to an air-conditioned room that housed an emergency generator, only thirty feet away. This was too good to be true.
I had brought all the radio gear. An hour later the radio repeater was up and running. I knocked on wood and gave the command post at the Hilton a call over the repeater channel.
“Command One [Tel Aviv Hilton], this is Delta-Mike, how copy? Over.”
“Roger, Delta-Mike, this is Command One. I have you good and readable, over.”
Halliday gave me a thumb’s up. “Roger, Command One. Be advised we will be conducting radio tests over the radio repeater with you on the way to Sandstone [Jerusalem], over.”
“Roger, Delta-Mike, Command One standing by.”
I got excited at establishing a communications link with Tel Aviv. Next order of business was Jerusalem commo.
Ben and his brother wouldn’t let us leave without sitting down for a cup of coffee. Ben whispered in his brother’s ear and a waitress brought over a tray piled with sweetbreads that Ben called rugelachs. I wasn’t that hungry but felt obliged. Ben waited with bated breath as I sunk my teeth into the buttery croissant-like bread.
“Delicious,” I said.
Halliday dropped his special agent demeanor for a moment and added, “Fantastic.”
Ben, like warm filling in a Jewish pastry, oozed satisfaction. Then out of nowhere, he began ranting about how much he loved hot chili peppers (he must have read somewhere that all Americans are addicted to red hot chili peppers). He promised to treat us to a spicy lunch at a Jerusalem restaurant.
Before we left the brother handed Halliday a grocery bag full of the rugelachs for us. We couldn’t refuse.
Halliday grinned, turned to Ben and said, “All right Sgt. Pepper, let’s head to Jerusalem.
Ben, a.k.a. Sgt. Pepper couldn’t get over his newfound alias. I refrained from looking into the rearview until we arrived in Jerusalem lest I hear him boast, “Sgt. Pepper,” one more time.
The King David Hotel was located in the heart of Jerusalem. At only about eight stories high it stood shoulders above the taller modern glass and steel hotels. The stately throw back from the old days had easily charmed me, although radio coverage would have been much better in one of the taller modern hotels.
From the parking lot I wasn’t able to access the radio repeater. I was a bit concerned that coverage tests had been sketchy since arriving in Jerusalem. According to Ben’s odometer the repeater location was about twenty kilometers or twelve miles from the King David Hotel (about nine or ten miles as the crow flies).
An S.Y. agent presided over Command Post Two on the upper floor of the King David. He had gotten us access to the roof. Fortunately, I was able to reach the repeater from topside. In the back of my mind I doubted myself. I had to made a decision on what was more important—the security of the motorcade from Ben Gurion and Tel Aviv (Secretary Vance’s armored vehicles would be flown in) or the security of Jerusalem itself (in which case I should have installed the repeater within the confines of Jerusalem). I decided, along with Agent’s Halliday’s help that the highway would be the biggest security threat.
The base station installation in Command Post Two had been a slam-dunk. We successfully reached command post one at the Hilton in Tel Aviv. After lunch we would drive around Jerusalem and conduct radio tests to find out where the dead spots were.
Our driver Ben had made good with his lunch promise. Neither Halliday nor I could identify the type of food they served since the menu and signs were all in Hebrew. We saw some of the other customers eating what looked like tapas—small dishes of different meats and vegetable. Sgt. Pepper was right, though; every dish was accompanied with a pile of green and red chili peppers.
Our epicurean driver ordered for us. The meat dishes, mostly barbecued lamb and chicken, were delicious. Halliday agreed. I shied away from chili peppers, and, of course, Sgt. Pepper had to comment. He downed the peppers like they were potato chips and made sure we acknowledged the fact.
After lunch, the drive test took nearly three hours. Agent Halliday gave Sgt. Pepper a list of places to go including Mount of Olives, Damascus Gate, The Knesset (Parliament of Israel), the Garden Tomb, and the old city. I drew circles on the Jerusalem map with a magic marker where the radio dead spots were located. Halliday voiced his concern about two areas in particular. He said he would discuss it with A.I.C. Blankenship.
Return to Tel Aviv
The return trip was uncharacteristically quiet. Halliday asked Sgt. Pepper if he was all right. The pepper king waved in the rearview with a thumb’s up. He looked a little pinked to me. Halliday looked concerned.
Back at Command Post One in the Tel Aviv Hilton Hotel A.I.C. Blankenship was ecstatic. “Wow, I never would have thought we’d have radio coverage from here to Jerusalem.”
I quickly interjected that there would we radio coverage “holes” between here and Jerusalem due to the varying terrain.
Halliday went over my highway and Jerusalem coverage maps with Blankenship. He was okay with it. Gazing at me he said, “We’ll work around those two main dead spots with a relay man [an agent on a roof of a nearby building] if we have to.”
Blankenship said, “Great job.”
I was feeling pretty good. I needed to perform a drive test from Tel Aviv to in and around Ben Gurion Airport tomorrow and my job would be done. I needed to drop by the American Embassy Tel Aviv to pay a courtesy visit to the CRO and pick up any telegraphic messages I might have.
S.Y. expected me to be on call (mostly at the command posts) during the impending Secretary Vance visit from Saturday through Monday. If I played my cards right I might even catch a few hours bikini watching at the beach.
I went up to my room about eight p.m. The door slammed behind. I dropped on the couch, exhausted.
The doorbell rang a few minutes later.
Agent Halliday wearing a frown said, “Our driver Ben’s in the hospital.”
Sgt. Pepper? “The hospital?”
“I just got a call. You want to pay him a visit?”
“Sure. Give me minute.”
We arrived a few minutes later at the Tel Aviv hospital. Ben’s brother met us. “The doctor’s think it’s extreme food poisoning. His stomachs in a bad way.”
Halliday and I exchanged knowing glances. The chili peppers.
After expressing our condolences, Halliday said, “What’s the prognosis?”
“He going to be bedridden for a few days or more. I know you were depending on him.”
“Don’t worry,” Halliday said. “What’s important is for Ben to get back on his feet.”
We dropped by Ben’s room. He had a tube up his nose, but it didn’t suppress a brief smile. Electronic equipment monitored his vital signs. For lack of a better word, he looked embarrassed. Halliday and I wished him a speedy recovery and thanked him for his help. His brother’s hotel turned out to be a god send for the repeater. I told Ben I was grateful to him for that.
Later, as we walked out of the hospital Halliday said he had requested another driver, but none would be available until Saturday morning.
“Looks like I’m the designated driver tomorrow,” he admitted.
“You’re not going to eat any of those chili peppers at lunch are you?”
Special Agent Halliday managed a grin.