When I first visited Israel in 1988, my friend Professor Menahem Milson, a distinguished Arabist at Hebrew University who was Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s military aide during Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem in 1977, told me that “you have to meet my friend, Colonel Yigal Carmon.” Carmon worked in the Israeli Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv; I had a very busy schedule in Jerusalem and around Galilee; so I tried to decline. Menahem insisted, and I finally agreed to spend a morning in Tel Aviv. It was one of the most fruitful surrenders of my life.
It turned out that Yigal was the advisor on counter-terrorism to the Israeli Prime Minister, and when I went to his office in what I remember as the basement of the Ministry of Defense, he was handling three telephones simultaneously; on each of them, he made life-and-death decisions, daily, sometimes even hourly, about reported terrorist plots: Was the report reliable? What could be done about the threat? Who was to be put in harm’s way? We talked for over an hour, during which the phones interrupted us several times. I left deeply impressed by his remarkable calm, his fluent Arabic (a trait he shared with Milson), and the extraordinary nature of his job, to which, in that pre-9/11 world, there was no real analogue, save perhaps in an MI5 office dealing with Northern Ireland.
Two years later, I was in town for what turned out to be the last meeting of the Jerusalem Committee, an international advisory panel to Mayor Teddy Kollek. Our meetings ended and, as Yigal had a rare day off, he invited me to go with him to Masada, Herod the Great’s massive fortress.
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