Sunday, June 7, 2009



Hagai Cohen
24 January 2009

The Airway Bill proclaimed that the wooden box sitting on the porch by the front door of Guy Oren’s Tel Aviv home was sent from Paris. Not waiting to take it in, Guy pried open the top with a crowbar. Inside he found an envelope with an unsigned note, which read: “My little contribution to your son’s Bar Mitzvah.”
“Maurice Lazar,” guessed Guy. “The sonofabitch always does things in style.” Guy sat on the porch stool, reliving the exciting memories.

His last meeting with Maurice had been in London seven years earlier, in October 1968. At their parting what had he called it? “Our very own 'Last Supper.' We shall not meet or communicate until I say so.”

Their friendship had started in 1956 when Maurice was a French liaison officer in an Israeli air squadron and Guy was a young pilot.
“The man is definitely a spy,” said the squadron security officer in his briefing to the young pilots. “A shrewd intelligence officer, forced on us by the French government along with their Ouragan airplanes, so be careful what you say in his presence.” This remark conflicted with Maurice's evident love for Israel. He was a Jew and very loyal to the country. Being a French intelligence officer did not stop him from wanting to be of help. He was an engineer and a pilot too. His knowledge was invaluable to the young, inexperienced Israeli pilots.

The friendship between Guy and Maurice deepened only after Guy left the air force. Maurice's refined manners and charm, his large apartment, and his unlimited cases of fine champagne, attracted young men and women like moths to light. Artists, musicians, intellectuals, and many Mossad operatives with whom Maurice developed friendly ties, mingled together.
Three years of constant partying and intellectual challenges ended for Guy in 1960 when Maurice's contract expired. That same year, Guy got married. Since leaving the air force, he worked for El Al as an instructor, training new pilots and engineers.

Maurice returned to his parent’s home in Algeria where his father cultivated vineyards. His family belonged to a large group of French settlers who were disparagingly called ‘pied noir’ (black foot). Maurice found himself in the middle of a war between the OAS, a secret army of the settlers, fighting both the French army and the FLN, the Algerian liberation organization. Eventually the French government forced the settlers to return to France. Maurice and his family became refugees in their own country.
Then early in 1962, Guy received a letter from Maurice. It read:

As you know, we had to leave our vineyards in Algeria. Since we left, I have been unemployed. The French government demonized the settlers and banned us from government jobs. People today look upon us as traitors. I am desperately in need of a job. Attached is an ad from a newspaper. Your airline is hiring maintenance people here in Paris. Could you please ask them to give me a chance?
Maurice Lazar.

It was strange that Maurice who came from a wealthy family with a grandfather who owned a winery in France needed a job. Maurice had to be in desperate circumstances to write such a letter. So Guy used his influence and wrote a recommendation to the technical representative. They hired Maurice who in time became a real asset to the company. Guy and Maurice would meet occasionally over the succeeding years.

In 1966, Guy decided to retrain as an airline pilot. While still in training, he received another letter from Maurice.

Dear Guy,
I am sorry to inform you that my Grandfather died. In his will, I was his designated heir. I am now the president of “Lazar Vineyards” which is a large vineyard with a modern winery on the Cote de Rhone … I have resigned from El Al and am already working full throttle… I will always owe you and your people a huge debt. You helped me when I was in need and I’ll never forget it… I plan to re-organize the business and combine my father’s wine exports with mine… I am now in the process of renovating our old family mansion... You will be my guest during the 1968 harvest.”

Guy was highly pleased. It is quite a phenomenon having a chateau-owning friend.

One July morning in 1968, two months before his planned visit to Maurice on the Cote de Rhone, Guy was in the cockpit of a Boeing 707 preparing for his last training flight, before the final qualification checks. “Sorry, Guy,” said his training captain on entering the cockpit, “They made an error in the crew assignment and appointed two trainees to my flight. Unfortunately you're the one who must go home.” Annoyed, but with no alternative, Guy took a cab home.

The following night, on the flight back from Rome, the Boeing 707 was hijacked to Algiers airport. Three from the George Habash terror organization diverted the plane with Guy's training captain, his crew and passengers to hostile territory.
The next evening, Guy received the following surprising cable:

“Sorry about the unfortunate incident. We need to talk. Come tomorrow to Paris. Booked you on Air-France 027 departing 08:00. Waiting for you at Hotel Royal Monceau. All expenses paid.”

As his training was now suspended and he had nothing better to do, he boarded the plane the next morning.

Meeting with Maurice always felt as though there had been no separation between them. After ordering room service in his grand style, Maurice got straight to the point. “I know how you Israelis think. I have no doubt initial plans are already in progress to raid the airport and to release the hostages and the airplane. I want you to know, my father is back in Algeria. The government made it possible to get his farm back. I manage his wine export business. Once a week I fly there and use Air-France as my carrier.
“Here's the deal: with my contacts, I can prepare your airplane for flight. My motives are simple. I hate De-Gaulle for what he did to you in 1967 with the embargo on military equipment when all the Arab armies were poised on your borders. I hate what he did to my father, a decorated French officer, forcing him to leave his home and business. I hate the French Intelligence Service for turning its back on me when I was in need. I am thankful to your airline for restoring my dignity and my self-respect. I will do anything to help. Give this envelope to your Vice President of Security. If we get the green light, we’ll start working.”

“Why do you need me?” asked Guy.
“First, I don’t want to be in direct contact with the Mossad. I don't trust any secret service people anywhere and direct contact with Mossad agents might endanger my future. Second, I need you for technical support, for manuals, wiring diagrams, spare parts, etc. The gunshots in the cockpit could have created extensive damage. I will need all the technical help I can get. Later we will need a flight plan, weight & balance calculations, and more. You will mail all those documents to a post office box in Geneva. And then you are done.”

The next morning, Guy was on his way back to Tel-Aviv.
A meeting with two Mossad people was set up in a Tel-Aviv hotel room. The two were hostile to Guy right from the start.

"Show us IDs," said the older.
Guy showed them his ID cards; the younger examined the documents for a long time. The older took out a pack of forms and said to Guy: "Fill these forms using blue ink. We are going for a coffee. We'll be back in an hour."

Guy started to fill the forms and soon became extremely annoyed. He could not remember the birth dates of his brother and sisters nor the schools they attended. Guy was already a pilot when his sisters started school.

The agents returned an hour later. Guy contemptuously handed them the unfilled and unsigned forms.
"Listen you," said the older agent angrily, "who do you think you are?"
"I’m the man you were sent to meet. Talk to me if you have anything to say or just walk away."

The agents were speechless. Guy collected his ID cards and started to walk towards the door. The younger man stopped him and said, "Look Guy, we must check you up. We do not trust a ’walk-in agent‘ and what we are doing here is most unusual. We do not know what your role will be in the operation but we are to act as your linkage to the Mossad.”

"You probably know more about me than I do, so don’t forget my parents birthdays," said Guy sarcastically.

The young man held out a plastic envelope. “Here is your flight ticket and some expense money. We will meet you and Maurice the day after tomorrow in Geneva. Your instructions are in the envelope.”
Guy accepted the envelope and said, "And what might your names be, and how am I supposed to get in touch with you?"
"I’m Booky " said the older man, "and he’s Doky, and you don’t need to get in touch with us. We'll find you if and when required."

"Arrogant assholes!" was Guy's assessment. He said, "In that case I'll call you Black and Decker"
"What do you mean?" said Booky.
“First, your names are not Booky and Doky. Second, Simon and Schuster are already taken by my friend's cats.”
It was a case of dislike at first sight and definitely not a pleasant encounter.

Two days later, the four met in Geneva, Black & Decker, Maurice and Guy. They discussed the lines of communication and procedures. Maurice stayed on with Guy after Black and Decker left. He briefed him thoroughly. “Remember you are not a professional spy. Behave like a tourist. Do not look back. Turn your head at pretty women, if you think you are being shadowed, stop at a shop window and check out who that person is. Go to the same places, talk to people and be friendly. Volunteer irrelevant information, and hide your thoughts.”
“Is what we are doing illegal?”
“What you will be doing is completely legal. You will be transferring documents within your company. The Post Office box in Geneva is also your company mailbox. What I am doing is illegal. If questioned, you don’t know me.”

“Who are Black and Decker and what am I supposed to do with them? What do I need them for? Do I have to report to them?” "Relax!" said Maurice "don't be upset, Black and Decker’s roles are just to babysit. They are supposed to make sure nobody is on your tail, warn you and smuggle you to a safe house if anything goes wrong.

Now, here is the deal, I'll tell you what we need and you will provide it: Maintenance, Manual pages, spare parts, performance calculations, fuel etc. Don't worry about reporting. I'll take care of that."

Guy moved into a small hotel in Montparnasse that Maurice recommended. “I know the people in the hotel and I may use them if I need them,” said Maurice. Another problem Guy faced was the cover story for the French employees in the El-Al dispatch office. It was quite normal for trainee pilots to spend hours at the dispatch office as it functioned as a library, but why in Paris when his home was in Tel-Aviv?

“I have fallen in love with a petite, beautiful, sexy, classy girl… the best thing ever to happen to me,” he confided in them. “I’m staying at her place.”
It was a story the romantic French could easily swallow. They even gave him advice on how to satisfy the high demands of a Frenchwoman.

When an upgraded version of a Teleprinter was installed in the company offices, the dispatch people were pleased with Guy's knowledge of it’s working. They were not yet trained and Guy was able to teach them how to use it.
A Teleprinter was installed also in the Geneva’s office. Guy mailed a small 'teleprinting' instruction book to Maurice. Twenty-four hours later Maurice had mastered the skill and "Sita" aviation communication network became their way to communicate.

Guy ensured Maurice received prompt responses to his requests. A week later the bullet damaged instrument was replaced. Guy never discovered how the $10,000.00 artificial horizon which he had given to an Air France pilot at Orly who then flew to Oslo, ever got to the damaged airplane in Algiers. Fortunately, the horizon took the bullet and was the only damage to the plane. The aircraft was refueled. Maurice used the “SHELL” credit card hidden on board and paid for the 14,000 gallons of aviation fuel. “Except for the ground air-starter, all is ready,” read the coded cable.
As he had been advised, Guy maintained a daily routine: three hours every morning at the airport; lunch at the same restaurant where he sat at the same table. At the end of the third week, Guy found a man seated at his usual table. The man was a regular in the brasserie. He always sat two or three tables away. He was friendly with the proprietor and nice to the waitresses. He seemed like a nice chap. He immediately stood up and said, "Oh, I’m sorry. I have taken your place, I’ll move.”
“No. Stay where you are. I’ll find another place.”
“No, no. The table is yours.”
The restaurant was full and there were no tables available.
"Perhaps I can share the table with you?" said Guy.
Guy sat down.
"Are you a tourist in France?" asked the man.
"You may call me a tourist but in fact I am a trainee pilot on observation flights. Paris is an important hub for our company, and the dispatch office has a rich library, so I spend three or four hours a day studying. That is, when I don't fly."
“I am Paul Ladaque.”
“Guy Oren.”
Paul was a few years older than Guy, intelligent and interesting. He spoke several languages, and loved art and music. Guy liked him immediately.
“I used to work for ‘Fnac electronics’ in marketing," he informed Guy. "Quite a bore! I have applied for several positions, and am waiting for replies.”
"The man is friendly," thought Guy, wondering about his sexual orientation, "maybe too friendly."
"Are you married, Paul?" asked Guy after a few minutes of small talk.
"No. I am in between girlfriends, in between jobs and in between apartments. I am not gay, if that is what you wanted to know."
"The bastard is smart,"
As they were enjoying each other’s company, the lunch took longer than usual. As they departed, Paul said, "See you tomorrow. A' bientot."
After the lunch the next day, Paul said. “Why don’t we get together for a drink one evening? I'll introduce you to my friends. You'll like them."
His friends were educated intellectuals, with connections that enabled them to get tickets to the opera, to the Comedie Francaise and other shows. Within two weeks, he felt he had known Paul a lifetime.

“My parents have a big house near Orleans,” said Paul one day. “I am going down for the weekend, will you join me? I usually don’t go there but as I am still not involved with any female, I feel I owe them a visit. They like company, mine especially, and they love to entertain.”

Guy was surprised but pleased, as it was atypical for the French to invite people to their homes. “Of course I’ll come,” he said. They exchanged confidences while they drove to the estate on the Loire river. Paul was interested in Guy’s life and Guy spoke about it happily.

“Did you fly for the Israeli Air Force?” asked Paul.
Guy had reasons other than withholding military secrets, not to answer the question. He had learned Paul was a pacifist, a member of several human rights organizations, was against weapons of mass destruction and against army service anywhere. To tell Paul he had flown a French aircraft and bombarded the Egyptian convoy in the Mitla pass was out of the question. Besides he was embarrassed to tell Paul how he felt about the unsafe French technology and their under-performance aircraft. Finally, he did not want to discuss politics - not the French government’s hypocrisy nor the embargo on critical spare parts during the Six-Day War.

“I was an operation specialist in the Air Force and learned to fly after I left it,” said Guy.
Paul showed genuine interest in Guy’s family, his children, his training and more. Guy answered his questions openly

They arrived at the house at three o’clock after lunching en route. They walked along the riverbank and had a friendly chat about the future of the Middle East; Paul knew more about the conflict than most Frenchman did. As Paul accompanied Guy to his room, he said suddenly, “Please wear a suit for dinner. It’s important for my parents.”

Monsieur and Madame Ladaque were hospitable but extremely formal until Guy said, “Madame Ladaque, this soufflé is excellent but it should be served only with the windows closed.”
“I beg your pardon,” said the lady.
“It’s so light, it could fly away.”
Everybody laughed and it broke the ice.

They moved to the living room for coffee. Two full size oil portraits hung on both sides of the fireplace. One was of a Spanish nobleman leaning one hand on a dining table. The other was of a woman in an evening gown sitting on a chair.

“The woman in the picture is sitting on the same chair you are sitting on,” said Guy to the old man.
"You’re very observant, Mr. Oren. The table we ate on is the same as the one in the other picture. Those two paintings are five hundred years old. Most of the furniture we have is from the same time."

This intrigued Guy so he got up and approached the paintings. He could not believe his eyes. He moved closer. The letters on the fringes of the tablecloth in the picture were in Hebrew script. What he read made him dizzy.

“Are you all right?” asked the old man. “Come, sit down.” He helped Guy to his seat. A bottle of cognac and a glass appeared. “A small glass will do you good,” said M. Ladaque as he poured. “What did you see in the painting?"

Guy did not know how or whether he should tell them.
“Paul,” said the father to his son, “glasses for everybody.”
“Is the man in the painting one of your family?” asked Guy.
“Yes. He was the first to settle in France from Spain.”
“Was his name Ladaque?”
“No. His name did not sound French so he changed it.”
“The writing on the fringes in the painting are, in fact, Hebrew,” said Guy.
A profound silence followed.
Guy took a piece of paper and wrote down the text in the painting and the translation: “The scholar, our father, and teacher, Moshe, son of Eliyahu, helper to the poor and a fortress to the under-privileged.”
Guy said, “The word for 'under-privileged' sounds like Ladaque. I believe your name comes from that word.”

Paul's mother, of old Roman Catholic heritage, was in shock. She got up and walked back and forth muttering. Paul frowned in his chair. The old man In a strange state of excitement, excused himself and said “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Twenty minutes later, he returned carrying a leather portfolio, which he opened very carefully on the coffee table. Paul and his mother looked on in surprise. After searching through the documents within, the old man produced two parchments, which he handed to Guy. Examining the first, Guy started to tremble again. It was a painting of the sacrifice of Isaac, drawn with tiny Hebrew letters instead of lines. The size of the letters and the old Hebrew syntax without spaces was not easy to read or understand.

“It is a testament, written by someone whose name is unclear, asking his children to return to Judaism once the danger is over. The date on it was 1498.”

“Can’t you read the name?” asked Mr. Ladaque.
“No, I'm sorry,” said Guy. “It looks as if the name was deliberately defaced.”
The second document was a Ketuba, a Jewish marriage contract written in Aramaic. The old man was all agog. He pulled out more documents and wrote down every word Guy said. Not until 02:00 did he let Guy go to bed.

Paul’s behavior throughout the evening had been somewhat strange. He sat quietly, deeply preoccupied. His mother retired for the night after being disoriented over an hour.

The next morning, Paul seemed not to be the same friendly person as before. “I'm sorry,” said Guy, “I can see you are troubled. Is it related to what we found in the painting last night?”
“No.” His manner was brusque. “We must return to Paris immediately after breakfast.”

They drove silently for half an hour, then Paul said, “I’ve been offered a job in Marseille. I fly there tomorrow."
Guy was surprised and hurt. "Why didn’t you say anything before? We've been sharing so much together and I have been with you since yesterday morning. Why only now do you choose to talk about it?”
“Well, you know, I wasn’t sure I wanted the job. Also I did not want to talk about it in front of my parents.”
“You could have told me in the car driving down,” Guy sulked. “However, I wish you good luck and I hope you’ll like it over there. Marseille is not Paris you know.”
“I don't believe we’ll meet again soon, but don’t worry I know where to find you,” said Paul as he dropped Guy off at his hotel. “Au revoir.”
“Bye,” said Guy.

Guy went up to his room. The visit to the Ladaques was not entirely a pleasant one. He was wondering what went wrong. He had been in the room only half an hour when a note was slipped under the connecting door to the next room.

Trainee pilot Guy Oren - crew assignment
dhd ly 215/26 ory-tlv ETD 23:30.
Crew assignment officer

The signature code was the password agreed with Maurice. The text on the note had no meaning. The code word translated as: ‘Leave immediately’ but, in addition meant: “Don’t pack. Don’t checkout. Take a train/ferry to London and fly home from there. Your mission is over.’

Guy got dressed in civvies, folded his uniform over his arm and draped a trench coat over it. He crossed the street to a corner café with entrances on two sides. He came in one door, joined a large group of people on their way out and emerged through the other door. On the next corner, he took a cab to the Champs Elysees, where he hailed another cab and went to the Gare du Nord. A train to Brussels was about to leave, Guy decided not to follow his instructions to the letter and he took it.

"If anyone is looking for me" thought Guy, "Belgium is a better destination. They never check passports on the train."
The next morning he joined an El Al crew on a flight to Tel Aviv.

Back home, Guy felt he had been dumped. Nobody called him; he knew no one to contact. The plane and the hostages in Algiers remained unreleased and nothing appeared about it in the newspapers. There was no diplomatic progress either. “What happened?” he kept asking himself. He had no idea where Maurice was or how to contact him. He did not think it would be discreet to write to his home.

Two days later, his luggage arrived with no indication of how it had been arranged. A few days later, on Sunday September 1, the aircraft, and the hostages were released in exchange for some terrorists. Guy got his instructor back and a month later, he was a qualified first officer.

On Guy’s second flight as first officer, which was to London, he found an envelope amongst the flight papers. “Join us for a party in room 303 at 18:00.”

Guy knocked on the door at exactly 6:00 P.M. and, to his surprise, he found Maurice, Black and Decker and two other men he had not met before, inside the suite. A bottle of champagne stood on a small bar with some nibbling goodies, but it did not look like a party. All had raised their hackles. Maurice was the only one to greet him. Guy just sat on the couch with a glass of champagne, Maurice went into a huddle with Black and Decker who in turn, whispered to each other. Then they went into a huddle with the two other men, and so on, back and forth. Half an hour later, Black and Decker, and the two other men left the room and Maurice finally spoke to Guy.

“What you witnessed," said Maurice, "is the ugly part of secret service work. Black and Decker tried to blackmail me, to force me to supply intelligence information. They brought their ‘control’ as backup. When I refused, they promised to incriminate me with some documents in their possession. I was not born yesterday, as you know. I told you before, we were considered 'walk-in agents' who are troublesome to any secret service. 'Walk-in agents' are the first to be sacrificed when anything goes sour. As a safety measure, I did my homework. I told them their real names, there home addresses, and their safe houses in France. I convinced them I could harm them as much, and maybe more, both in France and in Israel. We are now in the middle of a cold war with a balanced exchange of threats.”

After throwing back some champagne, he continued: "Black and Decker did not understand your role in the operation. They had no idea what it takes to prepare an airplane for flight. You are one of a few who knows the engineering as well as the operational aspect of the flight. The ‘off airways’ flight-plan you so skillfully created, the fuel calculation, the takeoff performance, and the myriads of other details, usually done by five separate professionals, was all done by you. Quite impressive.

Black and Decker were supposed to be in touch with you, to watch and protect you. They loathe us both. Their lack of trust in us extended to wanting us to fail. They ‘forgot’ to give you an address or phone number where they could be reached.

“The Geneva office was my idea and for various reasons. The first and the most important one was that the airport serves both France and Switzerland. I still have my airline pass. I can move across easily between France and Switzerland. The Geneva office handles only two flights a week. The staff comes from Zurich just for the flights. The rest of the time, the office is empty. You cleverly used the ‘SITA’ ( societe internationale telecommunication aeronautique ) Teleprinter to report to me. Black and Decker did not know about the SITA network and had no access to it. After I learned to use it I could communicate with your Vice President of Security, who was very pleased nothing leaked out. We kept Black and Decker out of the picture. They were astonished to hear that the airplane was ready for flight. They were fuming you did not use the post office, their only way to follow up. They came to Paris to grill you but did not know where you stayed. Their clumsy presence in France - looking for you - was registered by French intelligence, who then found you.”

After a short pause, Maurice continued: “I told Black and Decker some time before that Monday, to warn you. They did not do so. The French wanted Black & Decker, not you. They wanted to get to them through you. Black & Decker felt it, fled and left you to face the music. The plan was to arrest you on the morning of Monday September 26. The hotel sommelier, who is on my payroll to promote my wines, left you the note advising you to leave at once. As a safety measure, I drove all night to get you out of the hotel, just in case you didn’t get the note.”

Then Maurice said, "I assume you met a man called Paul Ladaque?" Guy’s face drained of all color from the shock. He cleared his throat twice before he could answer, “Yes, he is a good friend of mine.”

“Good friend, my ass! Colonel Ladaque is ruthless, a bright, talented and loyal officer whom I knew in French intelligence. He has never failed in any investigation. That charismatic chap can put the hangman’s rope around your neck and assure you it is for your own good. He was, in fact, about to nail you.”

Guy was in disbelief. “He held memberships in a host of human rights organizations.”
“Just a façade, to help him catch radicals and impress people like you. Paul took you out of town so nobody could warn you. The hotel was under surveillance in case Black and Decker showed up. His parents are in it too. He asked his parents not to discuss any topic that might reveal his occupation. Did the old man ask you how you met Paul? What you were doing in France? If you were married? No? Ha! I didn't think so. The old man was briefed. What I cannot understand is why Paul brought you back earlier than planned and called off the arrest.”
Guy was quiet for a long time.
“It was probably the cognac with the old man,” he said finally.
“What are you talking about?”
Guy told his story.
“Are you telling me that traces of Jewish blood kicked Paul all the way to Marseille? I wish I could confront him and rib him. It's not like Paul to get emotionally involved.”
“How do you know what goes on in the French Intelligence Bureau?”
“You really don't need to know that,” said Maurice.
Guy thought long and deeply. Was it possible Paul Ladaque himself was the source? Maurice was always one-step ahead, and knew too many details.

Maurice kept up the chatter for two more hours over Caille a la Russe aux truffes, (Russian style quail with truffles), which was in keeping with his style. The taste of that succulent meal lingered on Guy’s tongue.

“Listen Guy, we mustn't meet or communicate until I say so. This could be our very own 'Last Supper',” said Maurice as he escorted Guy to his hotel door and gave him a warm embrace. "By the way" Maurice added "we could never have rescued the crew and the airplane as originally planned: the bastards had filled the cabin with forty tons of sand bags. It took a whole day to offload 1600 sand bags before the flight.”

Guy turned his attention to the box on the porch, removed the foam chips, and exposed a 12 gallons barrel of delicate French wine.

The end

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