7 P.M. Wednesday, May 12, 2004
SAS Training Camp (Counterterrorist)
Southern Israel (Location: Classified)
Major Ray Kerman, on his second tour of duty with the Regiment, stared westward out toward the desert city of Beersheba. In the setting sun, the heat still rose shimmering along the foothills of the Dimona Mountains, despite the eternal wind. A long line of Bedouin camels heading for the last oasis north of the river moved symmetrically across the sandy wastes, not 100 yards from the SAS stronghold.
Ray Kerman stood almost in the long shadows of the caravan. He watched the black-hooded men, swaying to the tireless rhythm of the camels, their wide hooves making no sound on the soft desert floor. The nomads of the Negev Desert turned neither right nor left, acknowledging nothing, especially a swarthy broad-shouldered Army officer in an Israeli uniform. But Ray could feel their hard, dark eyes upon him, and he understood he would be forever an intruder to the West Bank Bedouins.
He usually found the tribesmen were different, trading at the Bedouin market in Beersheba, where the hand of friendship was frequently offered to any prospective buyer. But as his Sergeant, Fred O'Hara, had mentioned, "These blokes would rush up and French-kiss Moshe Dayan if they thought they could sell him a secondhand carrot."
Ray, however, saw them differently. Before making this first tour of duty to the Near East he had read the works of the important Arabist, Wilfred Thesiger. He had arrived in the Israeli desert filled with an unspoken admiration for the natives of the wide, hot, near-empty Negev Desert ... men who could, if necessary, go without food or water forseven days, who could not be burned by the pitiless sun nor frozen by the harsh winter nights. Men who could suffer the most shocking deprivations yet still stand unbowed. They were men who accepted certain death only upon the collapse of their camels.
The English officer had not forgotten the first tribesman he had met in Beersheba, a tall robed nomad, trading goats and sheep in the market. The man had been introduced, and he had stared hard, without speaking, into Ray's eyes, the traditional manner of contact in the desert.
Finally, he had touched his forehead and gracefully arched his hand downward in the Muslim greeting. Softly, he had said, ""As salam alaikum, Major. Peace be upon you. I am Rasheed. I am a Bedouin."
In that split second, Ray Kerman knew what Wilfred Thesiger had meant when he had written about the Bedouin's courtesy, his courage and endurance, his patience and lighthearted gallantry. "Among no other people," Thesiger once wrote, "have I felt the same sense of personal inferiority."
Ray recognized that as high praise. Not only had Thesiger been one of only two white men ever to make the murderous journey across the burning wastes of the "Empty Quarter" in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula, he had won a boxing Blue at Oxford University, and served in the SAS during the war. More telling yet, the craggy, teak-tough Thesiger had been educated at Eton, England's school for its highborn, a place which in 560 years had never produced a pupil who felt personally inferior to anyone, never mind a camel driver. Ray knew about Etonians. He had attended Eton's "upstart" rival public school, Harrow, alma mater of Sir Winston Churchill, founded as recently as1571 as a Protestant school in the reign of England's first Protestant Queen, Elizabeth I.
Ray stood watching the camel train head westward, into the shifting sands, into the silence. He knew they would remain at the oasis overnight, before heading into the market at first light. He held his Heckler & Koch machine gun lightly in his right hand, the barrel downward, and he shook his head as he contemplated tonight's mission. He thought, "I really don't want to end up shooting these people. I wonder if I ever should have accepted this command?
The truth was Major Kerman, with his immaculate SAS record, and inescapably Jewish surname, was not precisely what he seemed. Major Kerman's parents had both been Iranian, brought up as Muslims, and descended from nomadic Arabs in the southern city of Kerman, on the edge of Iran's vast southern desert, Dasht-e Lut.
But when the downfall of the ruling Shah appeared to be inevitable, back in the early seventies, the wealthy couple had emigrated with their toddler son, Ravi, to London. And there they began importing from the family's carpet manufacturing business in their home city.
The booming British economy during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher was perfect for the family. Mr. and Mrs. Reza Rashood quickly became Mr. and Mrs. Richard Kerman, taking a new name from an old place in the manner of many Middle Eastern families far from home.
While dozens of tribesmen stitched and wove the elegant patterns in the hilly regions north of Bandar Abbas, Richard Kerman opened a string of warehouses in southern England, and then invested in a small shipping line to transport the costly wool and silk floor coverings up through the SuezCanal and on through the Mediterranean to Southampton.
His Iranian carpets led him to expand his importing empire. Richard's seagoing freighters led him to oil tankers, and to the gigantic profits that were commonplace during the 1980s. He also began shipping superb Iranian dates out of Bandar Abbas. Tons and tons of them, all grown in another town in the Kerman region, the tree-lined twelfth-century citadel of Bam. Most of the dates were cultivated by his Rashood relatives.
Soon the Kermans owned an expansive gabled house on North London's fabled Millionaire's Row, The Bishop's Avenue, next to the old Cambodian Embassy.
Twin Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts occupied the garages. Not so far away, fifty-five miles west down the M4 motorway in the Berkshire village of Lambourn, six highly bred thoroughbred flat horses were expensively in training ...
Patrick Robinson was born in Kent, England. He has worked as a journalist and in publishing, and is the author of a number of nonfiction titles, including Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward's account of the Falklands War, One Hundred Days. Mr. Robinson has homes in Ireland and on Cape Cod.