PRIMARY TARGET ã
December, 1999 Release from
Penguin Putnam Publishing
Dressed in a long dark cloak and white turban, Bassam Shakhar
entered the austere chambers of his closely guarded office complex
in the heart of the city. The thickly bearded multimillionaire, his lips barely covering
his protruding teeth, was a fierce defender of the hard-line clergy. When the power struggle between Irans moderate president
and the conservatives turned ugly, Shakhar had prodded agents
from the Intelligence Ministry to assassinate over a dozen dissident
writers and politicians.
Without looking directly at the Russian politician, Shakhar raised
his arm and motioned for Yegor Pavlinsky to take a seat on the
opposite side of the conference table. Pavlinsky quietly sat down and folded his hands on the
Shakhar, an intractable and humorless man with a permanently furrowed
brow, stiffened ever so slightly before he sat. His pinched eyes were deep brown, and when he became irritated
or excited the right one tended to turn inward. A dangerous and unpredictable man, Shakhars complex
character reflected generous portions of aggression, grandiosity,
paranoia, and narcissism. The combination of traits was accentuated by a total lack of
Muffled sounds of jeers and shouts from Shakhars growing
league of followers permeated the building. Death to the Americans! the crowd of Islamic
militants chanted while they burned a dozen U.S. flags. Death to the enemies of Islam! Acting on the orders of Shakhar, the fanatical throngs
of anti-American militants were creating factional violence not
seen since the revolution in 1979.
Additional devoted followers, estimated at 17,000 and rapidly
growing, were venomously protesting against America in various
countries, including Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Kenya, Afghanistan,
Pakistan, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Sudan, Libya, Bosnia,
Yemen, Egypt, the Philippines, Chechnya, and Malaysia.
Bassam Shakhar, one of the masterminds behind a series of terrorist
bombings and hero to legions of Islamic fundamentalists, was a
strong advocate of using terrorism to drive the United States
military out of Saudi Arabia and the entire Persian Gulf region. To expedite his ambitious plans, the murderous psychopath
had developed a growing infrastructure to train and indoctrinate
hard-core terrorists, including a sizable cadre of throwaway
agents known as suicide bombers.
powerful figure in Iran, Shakhar had openly and loudly declared
that the United States was the enemy of the Islamic Republic
and called for the Iranian leadership to reject any dialogue with
Washington. He had gone on to explain that talks or relations with
the United States would have no benefit for the Iranian people. He had concluded his bitter remarks by reminding his vast
audience about the 1988 shootdown of an Iranian jetliner by a
U.S. Navy cruiser, then blamed Washington for another incident
in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days.
Determined to bring America to its knees, Shakhar later used state-run
radio and television, along with major newspapers, to declare
a personal jihad against
U.S. military personnel in the Gulf region. Three weeks after his announcement, he and members of the
Iranian secret police planned and supervised a car bombing in
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that killed 6 American advisers to the Saudi
Emboldened by the results of the Riyadh attack, Shakhar provided
financial backing to the terrorists who bombed the barracks building
in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 members of the U.S. Air
Force and wounded 386 servicemen.
While the Pentagon was shifting U.S. air operations from Dhahran
to other bases with better security, Shakhar continued to use
the conservative newspaper Islamic Republic (Jomhuri
Islami) to threaten U.S. military forces and their commander
in chief. Using the London-based newspapers Asharq Al-Awsat and al-Hayat,
and newspapers in Egypt, Libya, the Philippines, Italy, and Jordan,
Shakhar urged Arab leaders to unite in a jihad against the master of the world.
Undeterred by the "Great Satan's" power projection in
the Gulf, Bassam Shakhar was eager to take his personal war to
the shores of the United States. In an interview broadcast live by CNN, the international
financier boldly promised to use his vast resources to terrorize
the heartland of America if all U.S. military forces were not
withdrawn from the Arabian Peninsula. Shakhar ended the interview by calling the American president
a coward and a bully. His
vituperative rhetoric panicked conservative emirs, crown princes,
kings, and sheiks in the Middle East.
With the CIA-based Counter Terrorism Center tracking a number
of his terrorist cells, Shakhar became enraged when one of his
deputies suggested that Shakhars satellite telephone calls
were being monitored by U.S. reconnaissance spacecraft.
Five weeks later, with the approval of his consultative council
(majlis al shura) Shakhar
supported another major terrorist organization in their bombings
of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania,
that killed more than 250 people. On the heels of the bombing, Saddam Hussein sent word that
he would back Shakhar with money and weapons to terrorize the
As tensions mounted in the Gulf region, the American president
reinforced his commitment to dual containment of the
pariah states, Iraq and Iran. He delivered a stern warning to both countries; U.S. forces
were going to keep them in check, and the U.S. military was going to maintain a long-term presence in
the Arabian deserts and Persian Gulf waters.
to the muffled chants from the militants in the street, Yegor
Pavlinsky kept his gaze level and his expression pleasantly gentle. Get straight to the point. Our
countries could greatly benefit if we could collectively take
advantage of the opportunities in the Gulf region.
Motionless and frowning, Bassam Shakhar quietly stared at the
center of Pavlinskys forehead.
Unfortunately, Pavlinsky went on, the presence
of the U.S. military is having an adverse effect on the economy
of both our countries. From
our previous conversations, it is my understanding that you have
been working on a plan to drive the Americans out of the region.
Is your country, Shakhar began slowly, prepared
to assist me with my assault on America?
Pavlinsky quietly nodded, then looked straight into the dark,
sunken eyes of the terrorist leader. Yes, in any way we can, covertly, of course,
he quickly added. This
is the opportunity we have been waiting for.
At the request of your government, Pavlinsky went
on, we are sending fighter tactics instructor pilots to
enhance the skills of your pilots. Additional scientists and engineers will be arriving soon
to help with the missile development program, and weve had
a number of experts helping to train your submarine crews. If there is anything we can do to help facilitate the removal
of U.S. forces from the region, we stand ready to provide assistance.
What about nuclear warheads? Shakhar abruptly asked. Without the warheads, everything else is useless.
In silence, the two men stared at each other.
have made arrangements for the nuclear warheads to be delivered
to you, Pavlinsky answered, suppressing an uneasy feeling
in the pit of his stomach. Working together, we can drive the Americans from
jaw clenched and the iris of his right eye began to drift toward
his nose. It
is my destiny, he said boldly as he shifted his bovine gaze
to the crowds in the street, then back to Pavlinsky. To be subservient to the infidels is to be not a
Shakhar remained impassive. It is time to give President Macklin an ultimatum,
a deadline for removing his military forces from the Islamic world. I will issue the deadline soon. If the president refuses to cooperate, Shakhar said
in a scratchy voice, he will become my primary
target. I will
have him assassinated.
at the visceral hatred in Shakhars voice, Yegor Pavlinsky
THE GULF OF OMAN
After extending the Tomcats refueling probe, Commander Garner
Stockwell inched the throttles forward as he carefully maneuvered
the sinister-looking F-14 closer to the KC-10 tanker. With his eyes riveted on the refueling hose and drogue,
Stockwell concentrated on flying while his radar intercept officer,
Lieutenant Alan Skeeter Jeffcoat, scanned the skies
for other traffic.
After stabilizing the airplane behind the drogue, Stockwell eased
the sleek fighter toward the basket. Adding a touch of power, the commanding officer of the
VF-32 Swordsmen gently guided the airplane forward
until the probe smoothly plugged into the refueling receptacle. Once the nozzle was mated with the drogue, Stockwell carefully
maintained his position directly behind the tanker.
Youre takin gas, the sergeant in the boom
operators station radioed in his deep whiskey voice.
what we like to hear, Stockwell drawled.
an urgent voice interrupted, this is Major Labrowski.
Instinctively, Stockwell and Jeffcoat tensed. Labrowski was the aircraft commander of the KC-10 Extender.
the AWACS that was scheduled to rendezvous with you just had an
engine problem, Labrowski said, then paused to listen to
an air traffic controller who was communicating with the Boeing
E-3 AWACS crew. Theyre headed back to the base, and the spare bird
wont be up for another thirty to forth-five minutes.
Shit! Stockwell swore
to himself. This
mission is a White House priority, a request directly from the
president. I sure
as hell dont want to be the one who scrubs it. Stand by.
With the SR-71 Blackbird downed by a line-item veto, and the venerable
U-2 Dragon Ladies temporarily grounded after a mysterious
crash, the carrier-based F-14 Tomcat had been called on to provide
war-ready strategic reconnaissance for the White House and the
Countering the effects of the turbulent air, Stockwell deftly
worked the control stick while he quickly analyzed the situation. Although the Airborne Warning and Control aircraft wouldnt
be available to provide advance notice of hostile aircraft and
missiles, Stockwell remained confident about flying over the denied
The Tomcat carried the latest technology in Electronic Counter
Measures equipment. Recently
released from the black world, the highly sophisticated
defensive system could electronically jam enemy early-warning
radars and missile sites, making it almost impossible to obtain
a firing solution on the TARPS-equipped fighter.
The Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod System with a digital
imagery (DI) camera would image the targets and transmit the information
to the Joint Task Force, Southwest Asia headquarters in Saudi
Arabia for positive identification and analysis. Forty minutes later, the president of the United States
and his secretary of defense would have the recce photographs
in their hands.
The near real-time imagery of the TARPS-equipped Tomcats expanded
the reconnaissance role of the F-14 during crisis situations. The aircraft delivered aerial photos so incredibly clear
you could read street signs and license plates. Although national systems, Pentagonese for
spy satellites and intelligence gathering aircraft such as the
U-2 and Rivet Joint, were excellent platforms for gathering vital
information, they occasionally malfunctioned or were not in a
proper position to spy.
When time is critical, a call to an aircraft carrier in the vicinity
of a potential target allows the president the luxury of assessing
the threat in a matter of minutes or hours. In addition, with aerial refueling, the manned Tomcat could
provide increased flexibility for the commander in chief and his
I appreciate the heads-up, Stockwell said flatly.
Were going to press on with the mission.
youre going to continue?
short pause followed.
Skeeter Jeffcoat keyed the intercom. Skipper, the place is crawling with missiles and
fighters. Are you sure you dont want to abort?
Stockwell hesitated a few seconds. I dont want
to screw this up with the whole air wing watching. Normally, Id go home, but this mission is a
White House priority. Im goin for it, unless youre uncomfortable.
The seasoned naval flight officer faltered a few moments before
he answered. Id
be lying if I said I dont have some reservations, but if
you want to march on, Im game.
lets do it.
Piece of cake, Stockwell told himself as he played the controls
and watched the hose and basket. The delicate ballet continued while Jeffcoat monitored
the sky. Approaching
a full load of fuel, Stockwells throttles began creeping
for an adjustment, he said to himself.
Flying as smoothly as possible, Stockwell added power to maintain
the proper refueling position. He counted the seconds until the F-14 was full, then keyed
his radio. Thanks for the drink.
Darting a final look at the boom operators station, Stockwell
disconnected the probe and eased the Tomcat aft and down from
the KC-10. Clear of the tanker, he retracted the probe and pushed the
throttles into minimum afterburner. Long, white-hot flames belched from the turbofans as the
multi-role fighter raced away from the tanker and rapidly climbed
toward the bright midday sun.
The previous day, Stockwell and Jeffcoat had flown the same route
to capture their primary targets in the long shadows of early
morning. Now, after another request from the president, they would be
photographing the sites with the hot midday sun directly overhead.
36,000 feet, Stockwell advanced the throttles to maximum afterburner
to rapidly build airspeed for the final climb.
Ascending through 43,000 feet, Jeffcoat prepared to engage the
Defensive system. Ready
for the DEF gear?
her the juice.
Jeffcoat energized the state-of-the-art system and the Tomcat
immediately experienced a power surge that momentarily caused
the enunciator panel in the cockpit to light up like a Christmas
Stockwell exclaimed as he fought to calm his nerves. What the hell is going on back there?
"Sorry, boss. Jeffcoat quickly turned off the faulty system. The DEF gear went haywire.
Jesus, Stockwell muttered as he sucked in a breath
of oxygen. My
heart wont take another shot like that.
got it secured.
forget it, Stockwell sighed, feeling the effects of the
adrenaline rush. The
damn thing only works on training flights.
The demon named Fear had slipped out of Stockwells subconscious, taunting him,
coiling around him like a boa constrictor, squeezing tighter and
tighter until the fear was so palpable that he had trouble swallowing. The snarling, hissing distraction possessed the power to
erase a pilots judgment and skill. During his long career, Stockwell had successfully conquered
the demon many times.
doya think, skipper? Jeffcoat asked with a trace of
anxiety in his voice. Press
on, or get out of town.
stared at the horizon while he fought the impulse to cancel the
mission and return to the carrier. Maybe we should abort,
or wait for another AWACS. He considered the knowns and unknowns. If we loiter and wait for the AWACS, well have to refuel again. The timing will be off because the sun wont be directly
Why me? he quietly asked himself, then allowed a thin
smile to crease his face. Skeeter, the president is waiting. Im committed, unless youre dead set against
Jeffcoat took a deep breath and slowly let it out. We can hack it, sir. Just concentrate
on the mission.
their pulse rates winding down, the two men remained quiet while
the F-14 climbed through 54,400 feet, then accelerated to the
speed of heat and leveled off at 54,000 feet. High above most of the other air traffic traversing the
busy Gulf of Oman, the Mach 2.34 Tomcat was back in its environment. In less than fifteen minutes, they would be photographing
the first of two recently constructed missile sites along the
coast of Iran.
Spacecraft imagery and electronic data indicated the new
launch pads were equipped with Shahab-3 and Shahab-4 missiles.
According to dissidents in Tehran, the Shahab-3 could deliver
1650 pounds of explosives over 860 miles, allowing Iran to inflict
severe damage to Jerusalem and to U.S. forces at bases in Turkey,
Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. A few Shahab-3s carrying anthrax could easily kill the
majority of American troops in the Gulf region. More powerful, the Shahab-4 had the range to hit cities
With the assistance of Russian, North Korean, and Chinese engineers
and technicians, a third generation of Iranian ballistic missiles
was being manufactured at Hemat Missile Industries, which contains
a production facility thirty feet underground.
The news had caused a mad scramble at the Pentagon, and frayed
nerves at the White House and the State Department. Capable of reaching Paris or London, the state-of-the-art
missiles were equipped with thermonuclear warheads.
Other Chinese and Russian advisers headquartered at the Shahid
Bagheri Industrial Group in Tehran were in the final stages of
developing a 6300-mile missile that could strike Washington, D.C.,
and New York City. The Iranian weapons of choice for the U.S. were terrorists
to disperse anthrax, followed days later by missiles with thermonuclear
Jeffcoat punched the play button on the small portable CD player
he had modified to plug into his helmet. A few seconds later, the greatest hits of Hank Williams
filtered through his earpads. Jeffcoat adjusted the volume while he listened to Hey,
Good Lookin, then glanced at the horizon and tilted
his head back.
The bluish dome of sky turned dark blue as his gaze traveled higher. Far below the spy plane, the sky was powder blue and filled
with fluffy white clouds that resembled puffs of cotton candy
randomly scattered about.
studying the curvature of the earth for a few moments, Jeffcoat
turned his attention to his instruments in an attempt to ease
his growing anxiety. The
increased pressure to accomplish this particular mission was subtle,
but it was there. Jeffcoat closed his eyes and sighed. First the AWACS, now
the DEF gear. What
next? He unconsciously
tapped his foot to the beat of the music. Were hangin it out on this pass.
Mulling over the possibility of being attacked by the Iranians,
Jeffcoat finally shrugged off his concern. He keyed his intercom. What doya think, skipper, is the commander
in chief about ready to teach the big shots in Tehran a lesson?
I wouldnt bet against it, Stockwell quietly
chuckled. Giving us a deadline to have out troops out of Sandland wasnt a stroke
of diplomatic genius.
Yeah, Jeffcoat said, and now theyre threatening
to close the Strait of Hormuz if we dont get out by the
It may come down to a shoot out. Stockwell paused while he glanced at the Persian Gulf and
the coast of Iran. Theyre
sure as hell flaunting their muscle, trying to intimidate
a smart idea, Jeffcoat declared.
but you have to remember who youre dealing with. Stockwell made a slight heading adjustment. After watching Bassam Shakhar threaten us on CNN,
the president may want to give him and Tehran a demonstration
of who really runs the
show in the Gulf region.
Skeeter nodded in agreement. Yeah, it might get real noisy down there before too
Real noisy, Stockwell said with conviction. And then real quiet.
Stone Age quiet, Jeffcoat suggested.
something like that.
Skeeter closed his eyes and sighed while the lyrics of Your
Cheatin Heart floated lightly and smoothly through
his headphones. Wake
me up if we get lost.
be the first to know.
Stockwell pointed the Tomcat toward the initial point of the photo
run, then made a sweeping left turn to align the aircraft with
the desired track to be photographed. Traveling at twenty-six miles a minute, there was no room
for miscalculation or pilot error.
a sudden chill race down his spine, Stockwell scanned the curvature
of the horizon and thought briefly about Francis Gary Powers and
the U-2 Affair. I
wonder what he was thinking when the missile hit him, mustuv
been a major OH, SHIT! for sure.
his instruments, Stockwell tried to quell his uneasiness. I hope we slide through
this without becoming the center of an international incident.
During the previous two days, Tehran had repeatedly threatened
to shoot down the reconnaissance planes if the provocative
acts continued. To
bolster their declaration, Iranian fighter planes equipped with
the latest generation of Russian-made air-to-air missiles were
patrolling the skies. The
heated threats from members of the Supreme Council for National
Defense were being shown of MSNBC and CNN against a backdrop of
Iranian fighter pilots manning their planes and preparing for
Stockwell breathed deeply, enjoying the cool oxygen. Well, God never loved
a coward. Are
you ready, Skeeter?
Jeffcoat hit the pause button on the CD. Skipper, I was born ready.
Were goin for it, Stockwell said with
a tinge of apprehension in his voice. Keep me honest.
wont even blink.
Twenty seconds later, they blasted over the southern coast of
Iran. Flying at a
speed of 1,560 mph, they were thundering over hostile territory
at an altitude in excess of ten miles. Time seemed to expand as the minutes slowly passed. With their survival instincts keyed to a high degree of
intensity, Stockwell and Jeffcoat concentrated on flying a flawless
pass over the missile sites.
Thats one down and one to go, Stockwell declared
as they flew over Bandar-e Abbas.
I feel like were swimming in molasses, Jeffcoat
commented in a hollow voice.
Ive got the throttles two-blocked. Stockwells voice reflected a display of false bravado.
It still isnt fast enough for me, Jeffcoat said,
then counted the time until the TARPS recon pod began documenting
the missile site at Bushehr.
Uh-oh, Jeffcoat said as the radar warning receiver
began to bleep. Someones
painting us, no shit.
Were about through, Stockwell observed in a
soothing voice. Another
thirty seconds and its Miller time.
Jeffcoats heart stuck in his throat as the time slowly passed. This aint good.
it, Stockwell said boldly.
Twenty-three minutes after the fuel-thirsty F-14 started the recce
sweep over Bandar-e Abbas and Bushehr, Stockwell began a shallow
left turn to coast out over the Persian Gulf.
Theyre still on us, Jeffcoat said in a tense
ah, its intermittent, but someones tracking us.
Skeeter, Stockwell said as he forced himself to relax, you
can start breathing again.
Yeah, thats a wrap. Jeffcoat punched the play button on his CD player an instant before the Tomcat exploded
in a horrendous yellow-orange fireball. Rendered semi-conscious by the violent blast, Stockwell
and Jeffcoat sagged in their ejection seats while the F-14 shed
the right wing and right engine, then broke in half and exploded
a second time. The
twisted and scorched remains of the fighter tumbled out of the
sky, trailing flames and blazing jet fuel.
ABOVE THE PERSIAN GULF
the throttles out of afterburner, Iranian Air Force Major Ali
Akbar Muhammud gently banked his Soviet-built MiG-29 Fulcrum as
he and his wingman rapidly descended from 52,000 feet. Muhammuds first missile had malfunctioned and gone
ballistic, but his second missile had destroyed one of the Great
Satans reconnaissance planes.
Smiling with unbridled satisfaction, he glanced at his wingman. Although the Iranian Air Force had greatly increased the
number of aircraft patrolling their borders, Muhammuds flight
was the first to make contact with the hostile recce
planes. A few primary
radar returns on an air traffic controllers screen had made
the difference. It had given the MiG pilots a basic heading to intercept the
After descending to 2,300 feet, Muhammud leveled off and watched
the fuselage of the Tomcat plunge into the Persian Gulf. Scanning the hazy sky for parachutes, the MiG flew a sweeping
circle around the impact area as more debris splashed into the
water. Unable to
spot any sign of the downed crew, Muhammud and his wingman added
power and banked toward their base at Shiraz.
En route to the airfield, Muhammud recalled the emotional pep
talk their squadron commander had given the pilots. The infidels are
going to have to face reality; the Islamic Republic of Iran will
no longer tolerate the intrusive acts fomented by the president
of the capital of global arrogance. Today marks the emergence of a different, more powerful,
more determined Iran.
Muhammud swelled with pride, knowing that he was the first of
Irans elite fighter pilots to strike a deadly blow to the
COPYRIGHT © 1999 by Joe Weber