Suez2

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Lilith Gervasi served in all of the Arab-Israeli Wars of Timetrack Zeta until she fell victim to ultra-orthodox Jews playing politics and was sent home in the middle of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a move that probably saved her life since there wasn’t much of a state of Israel left standing after that final war went nuclear.

In Timetrack Eta, Nixon was distracted by the Watergate thing and couldn’t mismanage the Yom Kippur War to the point were it went hot, as in hydrogen fusion hot.

In Timetrack Zeta through Kappa Lilith provided her government with a great deal of intelligence on the Egyptian moves weeks in advance, information that consistently turned out to be uncannily accurate. Acting on these tips, the country mobilized to nip Egypt in the bud time after time. There never was a Yom Kippur War on those threads.

Lilith became legendary. The Labor Party kicked around the idea of making her the Prime Minister. What Lilith asked for instead was an officer’s commission for her “daughter” Del in the formidable Israeli Defense Force, which when rendered in Hebrew and shortened to an acronym was known as ZAHAL.

Lilith’s relationship with Del was strange to say the least. Del was actually the daughter of Talishi and a male B’nei Eloah named Brand. But since Talishi was simply the earlier incarnation of El Shaddai, just as Lilith was the second one, Del really was Lilith’s daughter, in a very convoluted way. But such was Lilith’s political capital that Israel was willing to accept the Jewish descent of Del as her true daughter on Lilith’s mere say-so.

After the near-miss in ‘73 the active forces of Israel were reorganized into twenty-six battalions, Alfa through Zulu. Major Del commanded the two thousand men and women of Bravo Battalion. In times of major conflict in Israel (always alerted well in advance by Robyn), hundreds of thousands of reserves were called up and assigned to one of the twenty five other battalions, which rapidly became full divisions, but Bravo Battalion, the uttermost elite, remained made up solely of hand-picked army regulars. It was their leadership, their equipment, and especially their training that set Bravo Battalion apart.

With her head sticking outside of the hatch on top of one of twenty segments of a towed barge, Del let the eternal winds of the Gulf of Suez and the moderate rolling of the barge kick saltwater spray over hem. Her tan, mottled major’s uniform was impeccable, sharply creased and heavily adorned with fabric service ribbons. Del was invincible in war and her fame extended across two star systems. But Asmodeus figured Del couldn’t be in two places at once, and he also figured if both Taurus City and Israel were attacked simultaneously, Del would automatically default to defending Lilith’s adopted homeland. So when the Gerash Patriarch moved to assail Taurus City he ordered up another Arab-Israeli War just to keep Del and perhaps several other B’nei Elohim tied up on Earth.

Africa was almost completely surrounded by water. The place where it was joined to Asia had been crossed by a man-made ditch 200 km long for the last 200 years, permitting ships to travel between Europe and the Far East without detouring all the way around Africa. It was not even a particularly elaborate engineering feat. The land was so flush with sea level that the canal did not require locks.

By 1978 nearly a quarter of all world trade was using the Suez Canal, but it was only wide enough to permit one lane of travel, alleviated with turnout lanes here and there, thus requiring quite an elaborate traffic control setup. For a long time there had been talk of widening the canal, but the proposals for dredging it wider always entailed shutting down traffic for up to four years and the predicted increase in traffic was not thought to be enough to justify the loss of government revenues from transit taxes, an enormously important source of income for Egypt as the country approached becoming a net importer of petroleum and growing Islamic “Jihad” terrorism strangled Egypt’s once lucrative tourist trade spigot.

For twelve years Israel had relied on Lilith’s intelligence, obtained from her source Robyn, to concentrate the forces of the IDF against any Arab attack well before it happened, which is how such a small country managed to survive in such a rough neighborhood with the entire Arab world arrayed against it. But both Lilith and Robyn had gone missing, so the country was caught completely off-guard when Egypt punched a hole at one point in the much-vaunted “Ben-Judah Line” of fortifications with artillery.

The commander of the Egyptian 1st Army knew that the Sinai was like a bread with a hard crust that was soft in the interior. After breaching the crust in the short channel between marshy, salty Lake Timsah and the Great Bitter Lake, the Egyptians started ferrying over tanks, troops, ammunition, and other war materiel on rafts as fast as they could, building up quite a bridgehead on the other side, like an infection of bacteria lodged in a wound.

And in this war, for the first time, the vast resources of the United States supplied the Egyptian side rather than the Israeli side. The Cold War had made a grand cartwheel, and the Soviet Union now supported the B’nei Elohim rather than the eternal losers of the Pan-Arab movement. That had always been a shaky arrangement anyway. The Soviets were officially atheist, while the Arabs had scriptures compelling them to kill atheists on sight.

The Egyptians had a good forty-hour head start before Del could report for duty, together with her father Brand, and Ariel the mother of Victoria. Mike Morrich went to Jerusalem to be a point of contact between the B’nei Elohim and the Israeli government.

Del’s amphibious assault arrived under the guise of twenty deceptively painted, weathered-looking old barges slowly towed behind a jumbo tugboat toward the southern entrance of the canal. They were in two parallel trains of ten containers all linked together by flexible couplings. At Del’s command they all simultaneously broke free from each other and began moving under their own power toward the assigned beach.

All twenty of the special landing craft began to take sporadic 40mm mortar fire from somewhere in the city but this was mainly just an annoyance. Each landing craft was coated with tank armor, constructed in the best shape for defense, a shape evolved through more than a century of constant warfare with the Arabs.

Del made her way to the front of the barge, pushing through the men and women hanging on to straps from the ceiling of the barge. Israel was unique among nations. Ever confronted with a chronic shortage of personnel, men and women were drafted equally, trained together, and sent into battle together, at least when the ultra-orthodox religious factions were out of power in the Knesset.

Then Del raised her voice to address her people, saying, “I have never lied or concealed the truth from you. They gave us the most dangerous beach possible. We’ll be practically single file. When you disembark immediately turn to the right and get off the sand spit as soon as possible. We’re the first. Our mission is to seize the canal operations center and to secure a beachhead for the forces that will come a little later. God be with us.”

How little they knew, thought Del, who was literally the daughter of God, that God really was with them. But even so, there would be no avoiding the fact that many of her people would not walk off that beach, perhaps even herself.

The boat officer beached Del’s assault craft right up onto the sand close to the structures of the locks and the buildings that supported them. The wall behind Del dropped down to become a ramp, revealing a beach being torn up by mortar fire. She knew the heavy shelling was soon to come. She yelled her battle motto, “Follow Me!” and led her people out onto the wet sand, the 1st Platoon of Gold Company.

Further down the spit were Blue Company, Orange, and White, each with five platoons, all of them storming the sand spit simultaneously.

The astonishing sight of a rusty barge breaking up into twenty motorized landing boats, turning with perfect coordination like a drill team on parade, beaching on the spit, and disgorging a thousand IDF troops onto Egyptian soil was spotted by the alarmed men in the canal control tower, and they called it in to a gun battery somewhere in Suez City.

Splashes began to fly up in the sea around them as the gunners got their range. The splashes got closer to the beach, and some of them struck the now abandoned landing craft.

Gold Company 2nd Platoon, the people from the boat immediately next to Del’s boat, was the first one to be hit with an incoming 155mm shell. Artillery is the troop killer. Sixteen people lay dead, another twenty lay wounded or were knocked off their feet. Of the wounded, eight would later die. Only twelve people in that platoon were unharmed, but some of these would be picked off in ones and twos by the random mortar rounds that never stopped coming in.

A pair of soldiers in Del’s Platoon, a male and female, set up on the sand a compact air search radar and tried to pinpoint where the rounds were coming from by tracing their flight-paths back to the source. Blue 5th Platoon took 5 dead and 12 injured before he got a fix. The female called out the resulting coordinates over a micro and requested an air strike.

At first Del wasn’t sure what happened next. She found herself waking up with her legs soaked by seawater. It slowly dawned on her that she had been close to the detonation of incoming round and had been knocked by the concussion a little ways into the water. Del had no recollection of the last few seconds, minutes? She didn’t know. Her only thought at that point was dying was so easy. Del had never been obsessed with the issue because she had lived for years in Haaretz, the place where some dead people go anyway.

Del was not to die on that day. Using his B’nei Elohim “superpower” Brand had deflected the incoming shell from striking directly on her platoon. Del’s body armor had intercepted most of the blast shrapnel, and the overpressure had been enough to put her in a mild state of shock but it was not life-threatening. She was capable of healing herself with her own talent. Still, Del was a little dazed, and she no longer led the assault, to be sure.

Brand, with the rank of Captain, had taken charge of the assault when he saw his little girl go down. It was all handled seamlessly. Del no longer had a coherent platoon to lead. Seven were immediately dead, twelve were wounded, and four of those would soon die from blood loss, missing limbs, or other serious injuries. The rest merged with the other platoons running north.

The Orange 3rd Platoon was the last to be hit, six dead and ten wounded, three mortally. A single Archangel fighter flew to the location called in from the ground and let loose a cluster bomb, which broke up into many bomblets and saturated the area of the offending gun battery with many small explosions, disabling the guns and killing all the personnel manning the weapon.

Now Del’s people were free to hurry off their vulnerable position on the beach, plagued only by mortar fire, which claimed thirty-one lives. Total killed in the landing phase was “just” eight percent of her force, and another twelve percent injured. This was very bad, but not nearly as bad as the forty percent casualties Del had anticipated after she understood her orders.

Del rammed home a lightweight clip of laser ammo. The cartridges were clear Lucite vials. When the trigger was pulled, the firing pin broke a seal in the cartridge, mixing nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide which gave a brilliant flash of light. This light pumped the ruby rod and laser light flashed out from the half-mirrored front end. Fully forty percent of the chemical energy in the cartridge was put on the target as a burst of pure light. This was the primary infantry weapon of the B’nei Elohim but the Israelis of Bravo Battalion were thoroughly supplied with them,

In city the defenders were well dug in. Lasers flickered all along the front hoping to catch an unlucky head. But Del could see the Egyptians were not fighting up to snuff. She could sense the feeling of little boy lost among them. Return fire was mostly ineffective but a few enemy soldiers stood their ground, aimed carefully and took out a few of Del’s people. Expendable nitrous/carbon monoxide shell casings popped away as Del called on the best within her to put thumping 50 millisecond bursts of light on target. This was the turn of the tide. It was palpable. It fell over the Egyptians like a shadow, like the blackness of mass hatred overtaking a mob. They were already in retreat, moving north on the road home to Cairo, and the Israeli Army was sweeping over the city in a general rout.

By the time she caught up to Brand in the canal ops center the building was largely secure. Del’s immediate objective had been achieved, and she ordered her people to fan out into Suez City to prepare to greet the rest of the Israeli Defense Force soon arriving, less clandestinely, in waves of lightly armored hovercraft. There were fights for the railroad station and the Al-Gaysh Causeway to Port Tewfiq, and a very hot struggle for the Governorate building on the waterfront that was quickly wrapped up.

With her successes of the opening hours, with Del’s empty barges abandoned on the sand bar swaying with the tide and not likely to be needed ever again, Colonel Motti Adan parked his ass safely in that Governorate building. Eager to gain the credit for the victory, he separated Del’s troops from her and reassigned them to the main thrust on the road north to Ismailia. As for Del herself, he called her out on the carpet. Del’s assigned beach had been a dead-end sand spit with only one way off yet somehow she refused to fail and he wanted to know why.

On the top floor of the occupied Governorate, which had contained the city’s police station, Del and Brand stood before him at attention as Adan vented the worst of his wrath, which eventually got around to the question that was foremost in his mind: “Where are your people now?”

Del decided on telling a partial truth. “I loaded the landing craft forty-six percent full, sir. I left the balance of my battalion in the barracks at Eilat.”

“Your battalion? Major, I can assure you that it is no longer, and never shall be again, your battalion.”

Brand asked the Colonel pardon and explained that the assigned beach would have been too crowded with twenty-two hundred troops, and the resulting confusion would have led to much higher casualties, perhaps even a total rout. Brand was awarded another stream of shouted insults, focused more intensely directly upon him.

“My father is my chief staff officer, sir,” Del said when there was a pause for breath in the colonel’s stream of invective. “He was following my orders. Therefore I accept the heat, sir. If there is to be any punishment I take it upon myself.”

“I should throw you both behind bars,” Adan said, but I think it is far better that you should both sit out the rest of this war. Major Gonen, you and Captain Gonen will do nothing. That is mandatory. I repeat: nothing! Do you understand me?”

“Yes sir!” they both blurted in reply.

“Now get out of my sight!”

Obviously Adan had an affinity for tidiness which Del didn’t share. The Colonel was less interested in killing the enemy and seizing land than he was in making the change of watch into a regular and orderly process complete with pass-down logs. He had put in a lot of time and brainpower crafting his Scimitar set-piece and Del had gone wildly off script, throwing his whole plan into disarray.

There was a very large black car parked right in front of the building. Del cast covetous eyes on it. Brand saw the Colonel’s sticker on the window and shook his head. “No, no, Del, that is Adan’s limousine, you can’t be thinking what I think you’re thinking.”

Del simply got in on the passenger side of the limo and expected her father to get in and drive. She had already found the keys in the front ashtray when he reluctantly took his place behind the wheel.

“Everyone is sitting around,” she said, disgusted, as they went out of the building onto the streets of Suez City. “Everyone is more afraid of the finger-pointing that follows action than in actually being hit with a round! It is time to get out here, father. To the front.”

“That won’t be easy.”

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