Daniel Silva’s “The Black Widow” and Dr. Arnn On Dr. Jaffa On The Declaration of Independence
My Fourth of July Special features Hillsdale’s Dr. Larry Arnn reviewing with me the best of Dr. Harry Jaffa’s interview with me about the Declaration of Independence from a 2002 interview with the late great scholar of the Founding and Lincoln. It will be posted if you miss it at The Hillsdale Dialogue collection very soon after it airs.
Also a part of the Fourth’s listening is a preview with Daniel Silva of his forthcoming The Black Widow. As I discuss with Silva, the book is a must read and not just because it is one of the country’s finest writers at work at the very top of his game, but also because this book is a timely –and eerily prophetic look inside ISIS and its operations, told through the life of Gabriel Allon. Preorder the book now so that it reaches you on release day next week. The Black Widow will shoot to the top of the best seller lists as Silva’s novels always do, and in so doing will provide a crucial introduction into the history and operations –and deadly threat– of ISIS. Get a copy for yourself but also for every friend who does not grasp the full extent of this menace. They will learn even as they find themselves in the grip of a thriller that cannot be put down.
HH: Now I turn to a different subject with an old radio friend of mine. And now, I actually have met Daniel Silva, the international bestseller, the author of the Gabriel Alon books, the 15 novels about Gabriel Alon, two other novels. He has a brand new one coming out, The Black Widow, in a week, which you can preorder at Amazon.com, and I have linked it. And I asked him to join me for a special July 4th conversation, because The Black Widow probably is the most important book of the summer, no matter who you are or where you live in America. I’ve had Joby Warrick on this program for hours talking about Black Flags. I’ve had Michael Weiss on the rise of ISIS. I’ve had General Stanley McChrystal on Team of Teams. I try and educate you about ISIS. I think The Black Widow will do more to make more Americans smart about ISIS than all of those combined. Daniel Silva, welcome back to the program. Congratulations. I think you’re at the peak of your literary powers with this, and it could not actually be more timely, sadly.
DS: Sadly is the right word. I mean, I sort of got caught on this one, and then I started working on a book about an ISIS external operations network. You know, I wanted to take ISIS international, because I always believed that eventually, owing to any number of combinations of factors, that they were going to become an international terrorist organization, that they were going to strike targets in the West, that they were going to go after the far enemy and not just the near enemy. And I started thinking about what would make them do it, why would they do it, started working on this book, and all of a sudden, it came true. And it was very scary, because as I noted in the forward of the book, I started working on the book before Paris happened. My book opens with an attack in Paris. I wrote about the links between a Paris attack and a neighborhood of Molenbeek in Brussels before that all came out in connection with the Paris attacks, and later in the attack in Brussels. And so it was very odd to see something that you had dreamed up quite literally come true. And it rattled me. I have to be honest with you. I thought long and hard about setting the book aside and writing something else, because it suddenly wasn’t anything that was even remotely entertaining. And to me, to work on it, I was very saddened by what happened in Paris. And it sort of, I decided to finish it, to pretend that the Paris attacks had not happened in the world of the universe in which my characters live, and to finish the book, and to say something about ISIS along the way, and to, and I, you know, in keeping with your introduction, to sort of teach us about ISIS, and what ISIS potentially represents. And the result is The Black Widow.
HH: I thank you for doing it. I thanked you in person when I saw you, because it is, some Americans just don’t read non-fiction. They do not read the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal or international magazines. They don’t even watch in-depth reports on ISIS. But they will read thrillers when appropriately constructed. In the way that Le Carre taught us about the Soviets, you’re teaching us about ISIS in this book, and I think it’s going to resonate. And here we are talking after an Istanbul attack, and I want to update this. I haven’t seen you since Istanbul. A Russian, an Uzbekistan and a Kyrgyzstan terrorist operating out of Raqqa…
DS: Not surprising. Not surprising.
HH: Yeah, but they get there. They get to Raqqa, they train, then they go to Turkey. They’re renting an apartment, and they attack the airport, the kind of network operations that you describe in detail that a lot of Americans simply don’t believe ISIS has the capability of doing.
DS: You know what? A very smart, very senior Israeli intelligence officer said to me recently we don’t know what we don’t know, okay? And so as I was working through the plot of the book early, before ISIS went international, as it were, trying to think why they would go international, why they would lash out, and thinking about their capabilities and talking to people about their capabilities, I was told that over and over again that they don’t have the ability to carry out true mass casualty attacks in the West, that they don’t have a network dedicated to it. And I, frankly, I didn’t believe it. I mean, how do you know what? Just because they haven’t demonstrated it yet doesn’t mean that they don’t have it. And I think it’s clear now, it’s clear that there is someone, or a group of people, a shura, a little council, who is directing. I mean, it’s as plain as the nose on your face now after Istanbul. These guys didn’t get together in a coffee shop in Raqqa and hatch this on their own and decide to go there. Someone, someone trained them, armed them, directed them, and dispatched them on their way to carry out this attack.
HH: And it’s very sophisticated. The other thing that’s genuinely spooky, Daniel Silva, about The Black Widow, and we’ll talk about this in the segments ahead, but I want to touch on it, this past weekend, especially this past Sabbath, Jews around the world and people who support the state of Israel grieving the death of Hallel Ariel, a 13 year old American stabbed to death in her West Bank home as a result of a young Palestinian acting spontaneously. And throughout The Black Widow, there is this background murmuring of the reality of life in Israel today, which informs The Black Widow completely. And it’s in the headlines and the front pages today, in a way, because it’s an American victim, that maybe they don’t, normally aren’t aware of it, and it’s explained in The Black Widow. That’s also spooky.
DS: Well, I was in Israel working on the book when this sort of started to percolate. And Gabriel Alon is a great lover of Jerusalem, as I explain in this novel, and I am a great lover. I love Jerusalem. And I go all over the place in Jerusalem, including into neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, Palestinian area in East Jerusalem. And you know, every day when I was there last summer, it would be some little incident somewhere around the Damascus Gate in the Muslim quarter of the old city, in one of the, you know, one of the things that people don’t realize about East Jerusalem is that there are sort of abutting neighborhoods of religious Jews right up against Palestinian areas. And they sort of, there’s a lot of friction there. And I just had a sense that something was about to really happen there. And then you know, I would go to the Damascus Gate, and a few hours later, someone would be stabbed, and I had just been there with my son, for example, you know, feeling like a complete idiot. And then it’s really broken out into the open. And I think it’s symptomatic, unfortunately, of the remarkable job that the Israeli Security Services have done in shutting down the Palestinian terrorist networks. And so it’s sort of a like a water balloon, you know, when you squeeze a water balloon, it’s going to pop out someplace. And I think that in a way, the stabbings and the low grade terrorism that’s taking place, or violence that’s taking place, is a result of Israel’s, you know, shutting down the networks. And at the same time the absolute lack of a peace process, and perhaps, in my opinion, the end of the peace process. And so there’s a lot of factors at play here.
HH: Now Daniel Silva, we’re about to go to break, but one of the headlines of the weekend is the alleged identification of the planner of the Istanbul attack. In this book, there is a character, Saladin, who is a former, I’m not going to tell who he is, because that’s part of the book. But there’s a mastermind.
DS: Well, we can tell who he is.
HH: Okay, go ahead.
DS: Saladin, we don’t know his real name. Saladin is a code name, a nom de guerre, but he is definitely a former Iraqi intelligence officer. And look, there were a lot of mistakes that were made on the way to this debacle that we face now that stretched across two administrations, multiple countries, a mishandling of the Arab Spring, a mishandling of the civil war in Syria, on and on. There’s plenty of blame to go around. But one of the things, that one of the most disastrous decisions that was made early was the decision to cut loose the entire Iraqi Army in a single day, and the de-Baathification order. It just put thousands of angry men on the streets with guns. And my character comes out of that. And what people don’t realize is that much of the senior Iraqi leadership, excuse me, ISIS leadership, is all ex-Iraqi military and intelligence guys. And they’re very good.
HH: And we’re going to talk about that after the break. I didn’t want to do much, there won’t be many spoilers. That was a little bit of a reveal that Daniel Silva gave you.
HH: But we’re not going to do any spoilers from the book, The Black Widow. A tiny bit of one there, but you kind of knew it from the beginning, so it’s not much of a spoiler. When I come back, we’re going to talk about ISIS. If you look at the map of Istanbul, where these terrorists came from, where they went to Raqqa, how far Raqqa is from Istanbul, you’ve got to read The Black Widow to understand this. Stay tuned. It’s linked at Hughhewitt.com.
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HH: Why am I playing La Boheme as I interview Daniel Silva, the author of The Black Widow, the must-read book of the summer? It’s a novel, but it will teach you more about ISIS than anything else you will willingly read, and you will not be able to stop reading The Black Widow. And I have linked The Black Widow for preorder so that it arrives on your door the very first day that it arrives. Daniel Silva, I’ve just this week been teaching 200 young conservatives for a week. And as I always do at the Young Conservative Leadership Summit, I recommended to them that they begin with The Kill Agent, and then move through all of your books to get a grip of the modern world. And I always recommend people read them in order. This is the first time, and you know, this, because I’ve interviewed you for a decade, that I’m recommending people read a book out of order, because The Black Widow is urgently necessary for people to read. And you tell the backstory. La Boheme is part of that backstory of Gabriel Alon, but let’s set it up for people. Go out of order. Read this, and then you can go back and start over. But give them the overview of the central characters really now kind of a part of people’s lives out of literature.
DS: The central character of this series was never supposed to be the central character of a series. And it’s important to keep that in mind, that he was supposed to appear in one book, and one book only.
HH: The Kill Artist, right?
DS: And…yeah, he was going to be in The Kill Artist, and that was going to be it. And I was talked into writing a second book, and that book sold a lot more than the first book. And I actually had to be talked into writing the next book as well. And then by the time I finished that book, The Confessor, which is sort of considered a little minor classic, I knew that I had a series on my hands. But Gabriel is a rather unique character. He is, and he started out as an assassin. He worked on the Operation Wrath Of God, which was the Israel operation to hunt down and eliminate the perpetrators of the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972 And he sort of served on and off with Israeli intelligence over the years. He was in and out. He lost his wife and son to a terrible bombing in Vienna at the outbreak of the first Persian Gulf war, and he is now, at the end of this novel, and this is not a spoiler, because this has been coming, but he is now the chief of the Israeli Intelligence Service. And in the real world, we call it the Mossad, which is just a Hebrew word that means institute, by the way. And I never call it that. I just call it the Office, which is what they call it, actually.
HH: You keep their headquarters on King David Boulevard as well, even though that’s not true.
DS: I keep, yeah, the real headquarters is a little bit outside central Tel Aviv now. It has a funny name in English, or not in English, but it’s a Hebrew word, it’s, anyone who’s been to Israel knows that junctions are very important the way the country is laid out. So you go to this junction and that junction. So the Israeli headquarters of the Mossad sits at an important junction north of Tel Aviv. And I don’t say where it is. They don’t say where it is. Everyone in the country knows where it is. But I don’t say where it is, and I use the old headquarters, because I like the sound of it.
HH: Now also, I want to assure people, although I’m pushing The Black Widow hard, because people need to be smart about ISIS right away, and they need to get smart in the way that it’s the most easily accessible for them, and that is, I believe, thrillers and beautifully-constructed thrillers, but I want to assure the Gabriel Alon cult out there that all of the characters are back, and a new one emerges who is really genuinely compelling. And I’ll just, we’ve got a minute to the break. When French Jews emigrate, and you detail the rise, the tidal wave of anti-Semitism in France, that when they emigrate, they often don’t become fully Israeli. They think they’re just French Jews living in Israel.
DS: Yeah, you know, it’s a process, and I will paint a very lovely picture of Netanya for readers. And it’s to go to Netanya and sit in Independence Square now is to be sort of in Cannes or St. Tropez, because there are so many French Jews there. And they’ve, French bakeries and cafes have sprung up to cater to them, and it’s wonderful, but sad, but sad.
HH: It’s an amazing portrait. I didn’t know about that. I have to go back to Israel just for that. I’ll be right back, America. The Black Widow is linked at Hughhewitt.com, one of my annual conversations with Daniel Silva. He’ll be back on pub date as well. But I’m giving you early warning. It’s going to sell out everywhere. Go order it from Amazon so it gets to your house, and get smart about ISIS. Buy it for your skeptical friends. We’ll be right back.
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HH: And you tackle some difficult things, Daniel Silva. I want to read from Page 79. Rousseau, who’s a French intelligence officer, was obviously tempted to ask Gabriel Alon about the circumstance of his one and only meeting with the American president, but he carried on with his lecture on ISIS instead. “The truth is, he said, ISIS is indeed Islamic. It has more in common with Muhammad and his earliest followers than some of the so-called experts care to admit. We are horrified when we read accounts of ISIS using crucifixion. We tell ourselves that these are the actions of barbarians, not men of faith. But ISIS doesn’t crucify only because it is cruel. It crucifies because according to the Koran, crucifixion is one of the prescribed punishments for the enemies of Islam. It crucifies, because it must. We civilized Westerners find this almost impossible to comprehend. The Israeli, Gabriel Alon says, we don’t.” I think that’s, it’s a very tiny part of a 400 page book, but it’s, a 500 page book, but it’s an amazingly important conversation.
DS: You know, our current administration, for any number of reasons, has consistently tried to downplay the threat of ISIS and terrorism in general. I mean, remember, this was the president who told Bob Woodward, I believe, that we could survive another attack on a scale of 9/11 and be stronger as a result. I don’t think George Tenet would have agreed with that statement, but that’s another topic. You know, this idea that it’s not Islamic, I just think, is hogwash. And if, you know, if we could had videotape and international cable networks at the time when the earliest followers of Muhammad came sweeping out of the Arabian Peninsula and established a, you know, conquered I guess about a third of the known world at the time, I think they would have looked a great deal like ISIS. And I’m not, you know, don’t lump me in with those who think there’s something, you know, wrong with the entire religion of Islam.
HH: Of course not.
DS: But there is a strain of this puritanicalism that has grown largely out of Saudi Arabia, and these are the tenets of Wahhabism to a large degree. And to dismiss this as simply un-Islamic or not religious, I just think is silly, and ultimately dangerous…
HH: Deeply dangerous.
DS: …because we’ve got to understand the historical forces at work here. I worry deeply about the future of the Middle East, the Arab world. You see where, you know, look, Europe is in trouble. The United States, our economy is sort of wheezing along at 1% growth, maybe. An entire swathe of the world is going nowhere fast. People are fleeing the Middle East. It’s being ravaged by unrest from end to end. And you know, the climate there is likely to grow worse over the coming decades if climate change does indeed come to fruition. And you know, this, I think that a, it is possible that a new Saladin-like figure, a new, you know, that ISIS could establish something like a new, a real caliphate.
HH: And that’s why, one of the reasons I want people to read The Black Widow is so they will not indulge in overestimating the threat, and underestimating our Muslim allies. I think your picture of the Jordanian state, and of the Jordanian, help me with the pronunciation…
DS: Mukhabarat is how we would say it.
DS: And it’s essential to the book, and I think it’s essential to the story that look, these are our best friends in this fight right now.
HH: Yup, yup.
DS: And particularly because the Jordanians are Sunni. I mean, one of the things that happened here is that as Syria collapsed, and Iraq collapsed, and it, we have a, you know, hundreds of thousands, perhaps, you know, several million Sunnis living in this ungoverned space now, remember that Saddam Hussein was Sunni, and that the Iraqi Army was largely Sunni. So Iraq was a majority Shia state ruled by Sunnis. That all went away, and you know, they have an Alawite regime in Syria, you have, in effect, an Iranian-backed Shia regime in Iraq. You had this huge ungoverned space in the middle, and ISIS, to a very real extent, has stepped into the vacuum.
HH: And to the destruction of all of our friends and the threat, and they’re all working together. The same people are working together, and that’s what I love about The Black Widow. The Israelis, long time at arms with the Jordanians and the Egyptians and the others, are nevertheless stitching together a rapprochement. The real peace…
DS: Look, right now, right now, the relationships between Israel and Jordan, Israel and Egypt, quite frankly, Israel and the Saudis and the smaller Gulf Emirates, is astonishingly close. They are all in this together. And what has fallen off the, you know, the agenda is the peace process. And I’ve been skeptical about the peace process for a long time. I’ve never believed that there’s going to be a Palestinian state in my lifetime, never more so than now. But as a result of America pulling back, our president’s foreign policy in the Middle East during this time, it has in effect pushed the Israelis and the existing Sunni states closer and closer together. They are working hand and glove.
HH: I’m talking with Daniel Silva. His new novel, The Black Widow, comes out next week. You can preorder it at Amazon.com. It’s a must-read manual on ISIS, where it comes from, where it’s going, who is running it, how capable it is, and of course, no spoilers again, everybody knows in the novel from the beginning, and in the real world, ISIS would love to strike Washington, D.C. They would love to. And the question is, what capabilities do they have? What you do a great job of is illustrating from encrypted chat rooms to the employment of black widows. One in four women will become black widows who are married to ISIS fighters, indoctrinated, as you say, embittered, vengeful. All it takes is a good recruiter or a talent spotter to turn them into ticking time bombs. They have been successfully so used. The Russian, the Uzbekistan, the Kyrgyzstan men who attacked in Istanbul were not black widows. They’re obviously front line Salafists. But the possibility of the attack, the reality of their competencies, you spend a lot of time talking about this. You had to learn the encrypted world, which I think is going to be news and important for people to learn from The Black Widow.
DS: Right. You know, and I did the best I could with it in a fictional sense. I didn’t want to get bogged down in it. I actually don’t enjoy writing about technology at all. So I did the best I could with it, and but it is what we basically have to, unless our government is not telling us the truth, that they have gone dark, and that they communicate in different ways. And you know, do they have, is there a network that is capable of training, arming and orchestrating a large-scale attack in the United States? The answer is I don’t know, but we would be idiots to assume there isn’t. We would really be foolish. And so that said, you know, the notion of ISIS-directed and ISIS-inspired, I think, is a distinction without a difference, because they do operate with, on a different paradigm. I mean, they’re, keep in mind that the guy who did Orlando, he killed more people than three bombers and three operatives, highly-trained operatives, in Istanbul.
HH: Yeah, the death toll is what people have to look at. And it can get much bigger and more sophisticated with even minor amounts of coordination from abroad.
DS: Exactly, so what I thought in, as I was thinking about it, is what if Paris happened in the United States? What if just Paris, small backpack-style bombs and suicide bombs, military assault rifles, multiple targets, city in chaos, what would the result be on American foreign policy?
HH: And sleeper cells. And I want to go to this.
HH: They exist. Back in my days when I was part of the counterintelligence effort at Justice, we had sleeper cells of secular Palestinian terrorists in the United States, and we knew that, and Soviets. There’s no reason to believe other than sleeper cells of ISIS and Hezbollah are here.
DS: No question. No question that Hezbollah is definitely here. Is there a cell structure in the United State for ISIS? I’m going to, for safety’s sake, I think we should assume there is. I don’t know that for a fact. But we should assume that they’re working on it. We should assume that this organization that has an income of, you know, $150 million dollars a year from oil alone, controls all this territory, that they are, that there is a, you know, a cell within it, a unit within it that is working to carry out a massive, massive terrorist attack on the United States or Western Europe, and I mean massive.
HH: Of course there is, massive. There’s also a picture in The Black Widow of life inside the caliphate. Whether it’s the specifics of the destruction of Palmyra, the trade in antiquities, the brutality or the encryption, and I gather you just had to read everything, a minute to the break, Daniel, to get this level of detail.
DS: I did. It will not surprise you that I did not travel to the caliphate to do my research. But I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’m a pretty skilled practitioner of the trade, and I think that you would not doubt that my character is in the caliphate meeting the people that she’s meeting.
HH: No, it’s another reason why The Black Widow is my must-read for the summer, so that you get smart about ISIS. Yes, you have beach reading, but it’s a wonderful thriller. I wish it were just a thriller. I really do. I wish it was just a thriller and a great read, but it’s prophetic, it’s proven to be prophetic, and it’s so real time. Go and get it at Hughhewitt.com or in bookstores. I’ll be right back. One more segment with Daniel Silva.
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HH: Daniel Silva will be back with me next week when his new book, The Black Widow, drops. And we can remind people about why you need to read this. But I have to close with a big and a little point. The little point, one of my favorite characters in the series is named Uzi. He is a senior spy, and he has weaknesses in which I have – cookies. But I want to make sure, because I told Daniel Silva that, that the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt has nothing in common with Bella, except in her patrolling of my cookie intake. I didn’t, I left that unsaid. But what I really found fascinating, I did not know that Maimonides was the doctor of Saladin, and you pronounce, I just can’t pronounce anything ever. But Saladin was treated by Maimonides?
DS: He was. He was.
HH: That’s just so amazing to me. So I wonder if you think this book will be more controversial? I think it’s going to be a number one right out of the top because of your following, and it’s how good it is. But will it be more controversial than previous books?
DS: I don’t know why it would be. I can tell you that the two or three advance reviews that I’ve gotten for it have been over the top, over the Moon.
HH: Off the charts, yeah.
DS: Off the chart great reviews, which is interesting when you’re late in your career, or the middle of your career, and well into a series that the book got this sort of recognition, and I’m very, very proud of that, because I worked extremely hard on it. But I don’t think it’s going to be controversial. It shouldn’t be. And…
HH: The controversial part will come when you allege that Iraqi intelligence officers are running ISIS. I know that to be true, but it will shock a lot of people that ISIS is built on the foundations of the old terror network.
DS: I don’t think that it should be a shock. I mean, first of all, you can go to the, Google ISIS leadership, and you’ll see, you know, this colonel, this general, this guy, this guy, this guy. But remember that you have to go back and, you know, Joby has probably explained it better than I can, but the genesis, you know, Zarqawi goes into Baghdad and begins setting up the cells before the invasion. We cut loose everyone with the de-Baathification, and the termination of the Iraqi Army. All these guys come flowing into Zarqawi’s organization, which becomes, you know, al Qaeda in Iraq, Islamic State of Iraq, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and it goes through all these various mutations. But you know, that core of Sunni Baathist and military officers has remained. And we killed a lot of them in the surge. And when we did the Sunni awakening, I mean, that’s what we did. We set up shop out there, and we had every night all night, we were going out raiding, and quite frankly, killing. That’s how we pacified the place. And I think that’s what we need now.
HH: And I want to say, and I want to say you give a salute, Orwellian salute, and I mean that as a compliment. He said rough men stand on the walls. And there’s a page on Page 68 where Gabriel Alon’s looking at his kids and telling them I’m not a murderer, I’m not a monster. You exist in this place. You sleep peacefully in this land tonight because of people like me, as we all will be celebrating today. And you know, targets, all, all over the United States, wherever 4th of July barbecues are happening, protected by people, by people who will run into the Orlando nightclub or into the San Bernardino conference room. and it’s because of rough men and women who are willing to use violence, and it is moral that they do so.
DS: It is. We have to be smart about it. We have to use our power wisely. And you know, you and I were talking about something during our meeting the other day about the new normal.
DS: And I heard that phrase uttered by a correspondent on CNN who had just spoken to a senior administration official that terrorist attacks in the West are the new normal. And you know what? I don’t accept that. And I, you know, if you can, you have to do everything you can to stop them. It seems to me to be a question of morality, that all these people in the past, gosh, it’s such a tight time frame. You know, they’ve done so many attack so quickly, but you know, hundreds of people if you count all the ones within the region have been killed by ISIS in a very short period of time. And then all of those who are wounded and maimed forever, and to suggest that we can’t engage in this fight, that we’re going to just sort of sit back and take regular attacks on our infrastructure and on our people is to me, it’s just, it’s immoral.
HH: It is immoral, and I think that The Black Widow will persuade people of that. And I cannot recommend it highly enough. Come back next week when it drops, Daniel. I know you’re going to be on a book tour. People can come out and have it signed. Where does that start, by the way? Does it start on July 12th?
DS: It does. It starts, actually, we got permission to break the embargo and so we’re going to do an event on the 11th in New York City. So you can get the book a day early if you’re in the Tri-State area. I’ll be at Barnes and Noble in the city. And then I’ve got, my schedule is on my website, and it’s a big tour, and it’s tight.
HH: Go and see it, www.danielsilvabooks.com. We’ll talk to you from the road, Daniel Silva. Congratulations on The Black Widow.
End of interview.