by David Ignatius ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1987
A secret relationship between the CIA and Fatah (Arafat's organization within the PLO) is the crux of this fascinating spy story, an insider's look at the Middle East power game by a former diplomatic correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. In 1969, CIA case officer Tom Rogers arrives with his family in Beirut, Lebanon; his job is to ""handle the Palestinian account."" With the help of Fuad, a Lebanese contract agent, Rogers puts out feelers to Jamal Ramlawi, young deputy chief of Fatah intelligence and favorite of the Old Man (Arafat). At a CIA safehouse in Kuwait, Rogers and Ramlawi make a deal: Ramlawi will alert Rogers when terrorist operations threaten American lives, in exchange for US help in resolving the Palestinian problem. Does this deal make Ramlawi an agent (as the US would hope), or a less structured liaison (as Ramlawi insists)? This is no mere nuance, as the US learns when a Langley hotshot pressures Ramlawi too crudely and the link is snapped. The cost is high, for Ramlawi goes underground to form the Black September terrorist network, responsible for the Munich massacre of Israeli athletes. The Israelis put the CIA on notice that they will kill Ramlawi (now back in contact with the Americans), and the Director's willingness to sacrifice him to Mossad provokes a near-mutiny in the Beirut station. In 1978, Mossad does nail Ramlawi, while in 1983 Rogers himself is killed in the bombing of Beirut's US embassy. Ignatius has converted his knowledge of Middle East politics and the spy business into novelist's gold: sweat along with a Mossad agent servicing a dead drop in a Damascus souk, and you'll feel Ignatius can handle tradecraft as well as le CarrÃ‰. Yet ultimately we are left with a succession of brilliant scenes rather than a satisfying whole. Too constrained by the historical record and the desire to be evenhanded, Ignatius leaves the reader unanchored, without a sense of the novel's trajectory; especially jolting is a six-year jump forward, just when the reader was primed for a climactic showdown between Mossad and Ramlawi. Still, a bold, splashy arrival of an exciting new talent.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1987
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1987
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