Illustration by Eran Wolkowski
Illustration by Eran Wolkowski.
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Like some of his friends − “former members of the intelligence community,” as they are known in these parts − Zfanya ‏(“The Code”‏) Al-Domi possessed two personae of somewhat contradictory nature. On the one hand, there was his public image as “the well-known Tight-lips,” from whom state secrets could not be extracted, even with iron pincers. But on the other, he had an extraordinary talent ‏(exemplified mainly in closed forums and on prime time TV‏) of uttering phrases capable of circling the Olympic track three times in one breath. He followed the age-old rule, “Be a chatterbox in your home and secretive upon emerging therefrom,” or vice versa. Maybe both.

“The babbling,” he repeated for the 20th time that day, “the babbling about the Iranian issue. Nothing annoys me more.” Shimona, his long-suffering wife, emitted a sigh of relief, as though about to share the burden with others, when the phone rang. Channel 2 News was on the line.

“They want you on the Iranian issue,” she said.

“About time,” he said and grabbed the mobile phone from her. “It’s about time to put an end to the babbling.”
She heard him bargaining with the producer. Only five minutes had been allotted for the interview, and he protested vehemently. That was too short a time for him to be able to give expression to everything he had to say against the “prattle epidemic.” He was promised what he was promised, and they sent a taxi.

While surrendering his forehead to the makeup woman, he saw the promo on a TV hanging above the mirror. Against a backdrop of intertwining hoops, missile fire and trumpet fanfares, the anchor burst in: “A war in Iran − next week?! In another few minutes, in our weekend edition, ‘Tight-lips’ opens his mouth for the first time on the Iranian issue!! Maj. Gen. ‏(res.‏) Zfanya Al-Domi will wow you with his extraordinary take on the imminent war!”

He was stunned. He himself did not know what the extraordinary things were that he was about to say − beyond his demand to bottle the babble. The grinding of the wheels in his brain was almost audible as he took his seat opposite the anchor.

“Zfanya Al-Domi, are we talking too much about the Iranian issue?”

Even before he could think of a reply, Al-Domi assumed the Smiley-as-played-by-Alec Guinness expression he had received from the General Staff quartermaster together with his rank and office − the expression of “one who knows” supposedly more than any other newspaper reader. And the words spilled out effortlessly: “Look, gentlemen, I am definitely in favor of a public discourse. I am all for that − but not now. And I will immediately explain why. Because the moment people start to talk and mention methods of operation and refer to the question of whether Israel possesses the capability or not − that is something we must not do, because it just plays into the hands of the enemy ... So there needs to be a public discussion, but not in place of a decision by the political level.”

“Obviously,” the anchor said. “So allow me to ask in all simplicity: Is Israel about to attack Iran in the next few weeks?”

“Look,” he heard his mouth say, “Iran must not be allowed to go nuclear. But if all the measures fail, and if sanctions don’t work either, there will be no choice but to use military force so that Iran does not acquire the bomb.”
“So you are in favor of an Israeli attack?”

Zfanya fidgeted restlessly in his seat. This was exactly the subject he wanted to leave ambiguous − though without it, as he well knew, he would not have been invited in the first place. But like a reservist who takes his army boots out of the storage space, thus did our guy immediately adopt the khaki-hued tone of gibberish with which he and his ilk had always blabbed themselves to death when speaking to the cabinet: “I want to say that in the end the Iranians have to understand that the process is identical if they do not stop their nuclear development project and if they do not meet the conditions now being demanded of them. In the end, the moment will arrive at which they will be forced to absorb a blow to their military bases − from a possible coalition, from the Americans or from Israel. I think there are a number of options − the last one should be to bomb. But to get there we have to let the coalition act, to see what needs to be done if they do not stop.”

Just like those cabinet ministers in the past, his interviewers were impressed but didn’t understand a word. In short: success. However, the Kushmaros did not give up. “Sir,” the anchor asked him, flaunting a pen, “is Israel going to strike in the weeks ahead?”

“First of all, I don’t know,” our friend replied immediately, with humility. But in order not to overdo the sincerity bit and sound even more clueless than the delivery boy from the supermarket, he quickly added, as though privy to a secret: “The prime minister said he has not yet decided. From the picture I have gleaned, and from my understanding of the overall international and regional picture, and the one in Israel, too, I can say that it looks to me that it could be close − and ‘close’ could be a week, it could be a few months...”

“Do you support a strike?” the Kushmaro fired point-blank.

“Look, there is an open discussion that I was not the one who opened, and it was opened and it is renewed with your aid in the press and everywhere, and there is not an occasion on which these things are not talked about. And when there is talk of this kind about these things, you have to take into account that at the present time it is necessary to reassess the picture that emerges and the capability in terms of the legitimacy that is required to take action when action is required ... The more so, because afterward the attack needs to be maintained ... I say again: If in the end there will be no choice, we will have to make this decision according to the situation appraisal at that time. In another X months or half a year, we will examine at any given time when it is right to do it. I think we have to think twice.”

In the taxi on the way back home, he regretted only that he had forgotten to utter the delicious witticism: “How did they put it in that Western? ‘When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.’”

“Never mind,” Shimona told him consolingly, “you will have other opportunities.”

*A note on copyright: “Zfanya” is a fictional character but his television remarks are taken word for word from an interview given by former Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. ‏(res.‏) Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash to Channel 2 News last week.