For years, major Western nations have chosen to treat Syria's involvement in international terrorism as a dirty little secret. Everyone knew it existed, but at the same time it was considered as something best not to be spoken of, at least in public. Fear had a lot to do with this prudent silence. For one thing, American, British and French citizens are all being held hostage in eastern Lebanon, in territory controlled by the Syrian army, and it is accepted in Western capitals that their fate may well depend on decisions made in Damascus. Additionally, and of larger import, Syrian judgments and actions have much to do with matters of war and peace in the Middle East. The Western calculation has been to try to influence those crucial judgments for the better by avoiding steps that might agitate Syria.
Last week, in a London courtroom, a jury that had been specifically instructed not to concern itself with larger political questions shattered the silence about Syria's role in terrorism. It did so by returning a guilty verdict against Nezar Hindawi, who had been accused of attempting to plant a bomb aboard an Israeli El Al airliner at a London airport. Had the bomb gone off as it was intended to do while the plane was in flight, 375 passengers would have died. Proof of Hindawi's guilt was overwhelming. No less conclusive was the evidence presented that he had acted as an agent of Syrian intelligence, trained and briefed in Damascus and directly aided by the staff of Syria's embassy in London, including the ambassador himself.