Hatred, fear motivate alliances in Mideast suspense novel

“There’s an old Arab expression,” a Christian Lebanese woman tells an American-born Israeli man: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Layla Gemayel and Jack Cole — the main characters in Allan Topol’s new spy novel “The Enemy of My Enemy” — become friends in this vein.

They join forces against Syrian oppression, personified by Maj. Gen. Husni Nadim, a deputy director of intelligence dubbed “the Butcher of Beirut.” Nadim spins a web of intrigue from the Middle East to Paris, Washington, Russia and a final battleground in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

The web of intrigue starts when a U.S. pilot is shot down in a rogue operation by a Turkish general, who plans to torture him to get information about American military deployment. The general intends to kill the pilot, but his plan is derailed when it’s revealed that the pilot, Robert McCallister, is the son of a powerful American who is close to the president.

The pilot then becomes a hostage in an uglier scheme — the intelligence directors of Turkey, Syria and Iran hope to exchange him for access to advanced U.S. technology that will give them a military edge over the rest of the world.

Each of the inquisitors is spurred by his own longing for wealth, sex, power and revenge — the latter primarily against the United States and Israel. Despite their common enemies, these plotters distrust, resent and scheme against each other.

A different kind of relationship is formed among the undercover agents fighting the conspiracy. Jack Cole works for the Mossad, aided by former agent Avi Sassoon. Michael Hanley, a CIA agent operating in Russia, knows the grave danger posed by the nuclear warheads negligently stored there. These men share more than hatred and develop a strong friendship.

Cole numbers among his own enemies Sarah and Terry McCallister, parents of the captured pilot. She is a Jewish girl who was Cole’s childhood sweetheart, jilting him for McCallister in their college days. Now her husband hounds the president to save his son — but to reject help from the Israelis. “The old anti-Semite couldn’t stand the idea of Jews rescuing his son,” reflects Cole. Nevertheless, he secretly becomes involved in the rescue due to a family tie.

Despite the book’s complexity, many characters and rapid changes of scene, the reader’s interest is held as its various strands are spun out. Some of the characters and situations are familiar to thriller fiction, but the backgrounds, emotions and dangers are real and timely.

“Enemy of My Enemy” by Allan Topol (435 pages, Onyx Books, $7.99).