On Brexit, a view from an American rabbi in London

I awoke this morning in a different country. Yesterday I accompanied my wife (who holds UK citizenship) to vote on the ‘Brexit’ referendum.  She voted that the UK remain in the European Union, a position favored overwhelmingly by people in their 20s and 30s (as much as 75 percent).  Last night, we stayed up watching as the votes came in and the percentages on the referendum waffled, and with them the value of the British Pound.  Although the measure was predicted to fail by a margin of 4 percent or so, when we woke up this morning we were greeted by a country in chaos.

The measure passed.

The value of the British Pound dropped 10 percent (and with it the value of salaries, pensions, etc.), banks and industry might look to flee the country, the Prime Minister announced he will resign.  Huge numbers of EU migrant workers could face expulsion over the next few years, British citizens who live in Spain or France may face problems.  Scotland is suggesting a break from England.  Most important, the entire political structure of the European Union is undermined, as other countries could now call for referenda to opt out.

How did this happen?  The tropes should sound very familiar in the United States.  Xenophobia, racism, protectionism, a failing rural economy with high levels of wealth inequality.  Generational divides in wealth and success here in BritaÓin are some of the highest in the world.  Ultimately, all these factors led to a rise in far-right-wing politics and a rage-vote of no confidence in the EU.

Even within my own synagogue, admittedly a wealthy suburban congregation, we have had a number of people express anti-European sentiments.  Some of them are themselves immigrants who fled from the Nazis who now wish to pull up the ladder after them and leave Syrian refugees wallowing on the other side of the Channel in France.  Rural voters and those in towns where industry collapsed twinned with the wealthy conservative class to vote in what was presumed to be the self-interest of Britain at the expense of the EU. 

A few words on the EU — not only is the European Union an economic power, but it also has helped Europe function as a political unit since the last World War.  It allows for free movement of labor between its member states and encourages a common currency. 

The vote has been a disaster already and emerged from a country wracked with economic divisions between the super-wealthy and everyone else.  It should sound familiar, and if it doesn’t, Donald Trump’s statement in support of Brexit should clarify any possibility of misunderstanding.

In the U.S., fear of Mexican immigrants has prompted a case for building a new Great Wall of China.  We must not allow demagoguery to triumph; we must not allow rage to dictate the democratic process.  The consequences for Britain on Day 1 post-Brexit-vote have already been dramatic and unpleasant.  Predictions are that the Pound may continue to fall, the economy may collapse, the banking industry (the thing keeping the economy afloat) may flee to Dublin or Paris, and if this continues the future looks bleak.

We must not allow hatred, fear, and xenophobia to govern the democratic process.  Here in London the fear is the Syrian refugees and Muslim ‘terrorist’ migrants (if you want to know what this looks like, google “the Jungle” in Calais).  As Jews, the echoes should be obvious: a group of people fleeing an oppressive government, camped on one side of a narrow strait of water looking for a way to get across to safety.  If the Biblical echoes aren’t enough, we only need to reach back a few decades to see our own people fleeing from Iran, Ethiopia, and Poland.

Rabbi Jason S. Rosner (Wimbledon Synagogue, London), is a Reform Rabbi ordained by Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles (2015).  He lives with his wife Noemie in South West London.

EU adds Hezbollah’s military wing to terrorism list

The European Union agreed on Monday to put the armed wing of Hezbollah on its terrorism blacklist, a move driven by concerns over the Lebanese militant group's involvement in a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria and the Syrian war.

The powerful Lebanese Shi'ite movement, an ally of Iran, has attracted concern in Europe and around the world in recent months for its role in sending thousands of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, an intervention that has turned the tide of Syria's two-year-old civil war.

Britain and the Netherlands have long pressed their EU peers to impose sanctions on the Shi'ite Muslim group, citing evidence it was behind an attack in the coastal Bulgarian city of Burgas a year ago that killed five Israelis and their driver.

Until now, many EU capitals had resisted lobbying from Washington and Israel to blacklist the group, warning such a move could fuel instability in Lebanon and in the Middle East.

Hezbollah functions both as a political party that is part of the Lebanese government and as a militia with thousands of guerrillas under arms.

Lebanese caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said the decision was “hasty” and could lead to further sanctions against the movement that would complicate Lebanese politics.

“This will hinder Lebanese political life in the future, especially considering our sensitivities in Lebanon,” he told Reuters. “We need to tighten bonds among Lebanese parties, rather than create additional problems.”

The blacklisting opens the way for EU governments to freeze any assets Hezbollah's military wing may have in Europe.

“There's no question of accepting terrorist organizations in Europe,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said in a statement that the EU had taken an important step by “dealing with the military wing of Hezbollah, freezing its assets, hindering its fundraising and thereby limiting its capacity to act”.

In the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry said Syria was an important factor behind the EU vote.

“A growing number of governments are recognizing Hezbollah as the dangerous and destabilizing terrorist organization that it is,” he said.


By limiting the listing to the armed wing, the EU was trying to avoid damaging its relations with Lebanon's government, but the split may complicate its ability to enforce the decision in practical terms.

Hezbollah does not formally divide itself into armed and political wings, and Amal Saad Ghorayeb, who wrote a book on the group, said identifying who the ban would apply to will be difficult.

“It is a political, more than a judicial decision. It can't have any real, meaningful judicial implications,” she said, adding it appeared to be a “a PR move” to hurt Hezbollah's international standing, more connected with events in Syria than with the case in Bulgaria.

Israel's deputy foreign minister Zeev Elkin welcomed the step, but said the entire group should have been targeted.

“We (Israel) worked hard, along with a number of countries in Europe, in order to bring the necessary materials and prove there was a basis for a legal decision,” he told Israel Radio.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague sought to allay concerns about the practical impact of the decision, saying it would allow for better cooperation among European law enforcement officials in countering Hezbollah activities.

Hezbollah parliamentary member al-Walid Soukariah said the decision puts Europe “in confrontation with this segment of people in our region”.

“This step won't affect Hezbollah or the resistance. The resistance is present on Lebanese territory and not in Europe. It is not a terrorist group to carry out terrorist attacks in Europe, which is forbidden by religion.”


The Iran-backed movement, set up with the aim of fighting Israel after its invasion of Lebanon three decades ago, has dominated politics in Beirut in recent years.

In debating the blacklisting, many EU governments expressed concerns over maintaining Europe's relations with Lebanon. To soothe such worries, the ministers agreed to make a statement pledging to continue dialogue with all political groups.

“We also agreed that the delivery of legitimate financial transfers to Lebanon and delivery of assistance from the European Union and its member states will not be affected,” the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

Already on the EU blacklist are groups such as Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, and Turkey's Kurdish militant group PKK.

Their assets in Europe are frozen and they have no access to cash there, meaning they cannot raise money for their activities. Sanctions on Hezbollah go into effect this week.

Hezbollah denies any involvement in last July's attack in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian interior minister said last week Sofia had no doubt the group was behind it.

In support of its bid to impose sanctions, Britain has also cited a four-year jail sentence handed down by a Cypriot court in March to a Hezbollah member accused of plotting to attack Israeli interests on the island.

The decision also comes at a time of strained relations between the EU and Israel after Brussels pushed ahead with plans to bar EU financial aid to Israeli organizations operating in the occupied Palestinian territories.

EU foreign ministers held a video conference with Kerry who announced on Friday that Israel and the Palestinians had tentatively agreed to resume peace talks after three years.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Oliver Holmes, Stephen Kalin and Reuters Television in Beirut; Editing by Will Waterman

U.S., Russia seek new Syria peace talks, rebels skeptical

Russia and the United States agreed to seek new peace talks with both sides to end Syria's civil war, but opposition leaders were skeptical on Wednesday of an initiative they fear might let President Bashar Assad hang on to power.

Mindful the conflict may be far from over, Britain has urged fellow European Union states to lift an arms embargo, arguing it would strengthen those rebel groups favored by Western powers.

Visiting Moscow after Israel bombed sites near Damascus and as President Barack Obama also faces renewed calls to arm the rebels, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said late on Tuesday that Russia agreed to work on a conference in the coming weeks.

An East-West disagreement that has seen some of the frostiest exchanges between Washington and Moscow since the Cold War has deadlocked U.N. efforts to settle the Syrian conflict for two years, so any rapprochement could bring an international common front closer than it has been for many months.

Israeli air strikes, reports of the use of chemical weapons and the increasing prominence of al Qaeda-linked militants among the rebels have all added to international urgency for an end to a war that has killed more than 70,000 people.

But with Syria's factional and sectarian hatreds more entrenched than ever, it is far from clear the warring parties are ready to negotiate with each other. Most opposition figures have ruled out talks unless Assad and his inner circle are excluded from any future transitional government.

“I believe the opposition would find it impossible to hold talks over a government that still had Assad at its head,” said Samir Nashar of the opposition's umbrella National Coalition.

“Before making any decisions we need to know what Assad's role would be. That point has been left vague, we believe intentionally so, in order to try to drag the opposition into talks before a decision on that is made.”

In the past, the United States has backed opposition demands that Assad be excluded from any future government, while Russia has said that must be for Syrians to decide, a formula the opposition believes could be used to keep Assad in power.

Opposition members said they were concerned by comments from Kerry in Moscow, echoing Russia, that the decision on who takes part in a transitional government should be left to Syrians.

“Syrians are worried that the United States is advancing its own interests with Russia, using the blood and suffering of the Syrian people,” said National Coalition member Ahmed Ramadan.

Inside Syria, where rebel groups have disparate views, a military commander, Abdeljabbar al-Oqaidi, told Reuters: “If the regime were present, I do not believe we would want to attend.”

There was no immediate response from the Syrian government, which has offered reforms but dismisses those fighting it as terrorists and puppets of outside powers – the West, Turkey and Arab states opposed to Assad's ally Iran.


If fears of an escalation of the war are driving new peace moves, they have also set some Western powers looking again at their military options. Washington said last week it was rethinking its opposition to arming the rebels, and on Wednesday it emerged Britain has been lobbying the EU to let it do so, too.

Several EU governments are resisting French and British efforts to get the embargo lifted, concerned that the move could escalate the two-year-old conflict.

In a paper seen by Reuters, London suggested ways the ban could be amended to get arms to the National Coalition. Existing sanctions expire on June 1. With France, the other main military power in the bloc, Britain is trying to persuade Spain, Austria, Sweden and others to ease opposition to arming the rebels.

But with the prospect of the conflict spilling across a volatile region central to global energy supplies and transit routes, major powers also have, as Kerry told Putin on Tuesday, “very significant common interests” in pushing for a settlement.

“The alternative,” Kerry later told a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, “is that Syria heads closer to an abyss, if not over the abyss and into chaos”.

Both sides fear a failed state in Syria could provide a base for hostile militants willing to strike around the world.

Last June, at a conference in Geneva, Washington and Moscow agreed on the need for a transitional government in Syria, but diplomacy has foundered since then, and the mediator of the Geneva conference, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, quit in despair, saying differences among powers were too wide.

Kerry said the conference might be held as early as this month, though no venue has been set.

Russia, backed by China, has vetoed three U.N. Security Council resolutions hostile to Assad. Alarmed at Western powers' use of a U.N. mandate to oust Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Moscow and Beijing are wary of such interference in their own affairs.


Recent developments have focused minds on the risks of wider war in the Middle East.

The White House said last month that Assad's troops probably used chemical weapons – which Obama has called a “red line” that would mandate a strong, if unspecified, response. The government and rebels each accuse the other of using poison gas, a charge both sides deny. British Prime Minister David said on Wednesday there was evidence Assad's forces “continue” to use sarin gas.

But despite pleading from the opposition, Western leaders have been reluctant to weigh in by arming the rebels, especially as Islamist fighters have pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, highlighting the risk to the West that a poorly managed change of leadership in Syria could bring hostile militants to power.

Israeli air strikes in recent days – which Israeli officials said hit Iranian arms headed for Assad and Tehran's Lebanese allies Hezbollah – underlined the risk of cross-border conflict.

The violence has inflamed a confrontation between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims in the Middle East, with Shi'ite Iran supporting Assad, and Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia backing the rebels.

Tehran warned of unforeseeable consequences if Assad were toppled and said only a political deal would avert a regional conflagration: “God forbid, if there is any vacuum in Syria, these negative consequences will affect all countries,” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said. “No one knows what will happen.”

Diplomatic sources in Moscow made clear the latest push for peace was being driven by growing alarm following the Israeli air raids, the possibility of foreign arms pouring into Syria and the possible use of chemical weapons.

Moscow and Washington have also signaled they want to improve cooperation on security matters since the Boston Marathon bombings, which U.S. officials suspect was carried out by ethnic Chechens who had lived in Russia. U.S. officials said FBI chief Robert Mueller had been in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss the bombings, but gave no details.

In a further sign of Washington's efforts to improve ties with Russia, Kerry avoided any sharp public criticism of Moscow's human rights record when he met civil rights activists in the Russian capital on Wednesday before his departure.

In Syria, Internet connections and phones to the outside world were restored after a day-long blackout that officials put down to a technical fault on a cable but which opposition activists said was deliberately imposed for military operations.

Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman and Arshad Mohammed, Timothy Heritage, Alexei Anishchuk and Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Writing by Alastair Macdonald, Timothy Heritage and Peter Graff; Editing by Will Waterman

March was bloodiest month in Syria war, rights group says

March was the bloodiest month yet in Syria's two-year conflict, with more than 6,000 people killed, a third of them civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday.

The group opposes President Bashar al-Assad but has monitored human rights violations on both sides of a revolt that began as peaceful protests but is now a brutal war between forces loyal to Assad and an array of rebel militias.

The Britain-based Observatory, which has a network of sources across Syria, has documented 62,554 dead in the conflict, said Rami Abdelrahman, the head of the group.

“But we know the number is much, much higher,” he told Reuters by telephone. “We estimate it is actually around 120,000 people. Many death tolls are more difficult to document so we are not officially including them yet.”

As in previous months, around a third of those killed in March were civilians, the Observatory said. Almost 300 children died, taking the number killed in the conflict to around 4,390.

The United Nations says more than 70,000 people have died in Syria. Abdelrahman said both sides have found ways to minimize their dead to keep morale high among their followers.

“There are some groups where it took us longer to get access to sources. For example we started counting deaths much later among the shabbiha,” said Abdelrahman, referring to pro-Assad militias that have fought alongside security forces.

His group has a rough count of 12,000 dead shabbiha fighters but has yet to include those in its toll.

Also unknown is the number of dead among the tens of thousands jailed by Assad's forces since the conflict began. There was also no way to count the number of Syrian soldiers killed after being captured by rebels. Activists believe those are also likely to number in the thousands.

Some 2,250 dead opposition fighters are unknown, and the Observatory said it believed most of those are fighters from abroad who joined the rebels in Syria, which has become a site for jihad, or “holy war”, to many Islamic militant groups.

Assad has long accused his opponents of being “terrorists” funded by Gulf and other foreign powers.

Disunity among the opposition in exile and the armed factions on the ground has hindered the struggle against Assad and contributed to Western reluctance to intervene.

Abdelrahman called on foreign powers to take action to help ease Syria's crisis as violence continues to rise.

“It seems that Bashar al-Assad is satisfied killing as much as needed to keep his throne. But it also seems that Syrian blood is of no value to Arab or Western powers who have been making promise after promise, while Syrians are led to slaughter,” he said.

Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer

Romney casts Obama’s foreign policy as weak, dangerous

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivered a sweeping critique on Monday of President Barack Obama's handling of threats in the Middle East, saying Obama's lack of leadership had made the volatile region more dangerous.

In what his campaign called a major foreign policy address, Romney called for a more assertive use of American influence in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Romney, speaking before the white-uniformed cadets at Virginia Military Institute, questioned Obama's handling of the episode in Libya last month in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed after the U.S. consulate in Benghazi came under militant attack.

The former Massachusetts governor also accused Obama of failing to use U.S. diplomacy to shape events in Iran, Iraq, Israel, Syria, Russia and elsewhere.

“The president is fond of saying that, 'The tide of war is receding,'” Romney said. “And I want to believe him as much as anyone. But when we look at the Middle East today … it is clear that the risk of conflict in the region is higher now than when the president took office.”

Romney's speech was short on specifics, but in broad terms he laid out his national security priorities before the second of his three debates with Obama, which will be at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York state on Oct. 16 and will include discussion of foreign policy.

Romney's aim on Monday was to portray himself as having the presidential stature needed for the world stage. He had a similar goal during a trip overseas in July, but that was marred by a series of missteps, including his inadvertent insult of the organizers of the London Olympics.

In calling for a more forceful foreign policy, Romney indicated that he would not rush into armed conflict.

But he accused Obama of a hasty troop withdrawal from Iraq, saying hard-fought gains there are being eroded by rising violence and a resurgent al Qaeda. Obama considers his withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq the fulfillment of a 2008 campaign promise, sought by Americans weary of war.

Romney also said he might not be so quick to pull troops out of the unpopular war in Afghanistan. Obama has pledged to end the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 as part of NATO's plan to hand over security responsibility to Afghan forces.

Romney said he would pursue a transition to Afghan security forces by that time, but would evaluate conditions there before making a final decision to pull out.

Obama was right to order the mission that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden last year, Romney said, but he charged that other elements of the president's strategy for the region were weak or ill-advised. Romney pointed to the extensive U.S. reliance on attacks by drone aircraft as “no substitute for a national security strategy for the Middle East.”

Romney, who accused Obama of pursuing a strategy of “passivity” rather than partnership with U.S. allies, is running just behind or even with his Democratic rival in most opinion polls, which have gotten closer since Romney did well in their first debate last week.

Reuters/Ipsos tracking polls indicate that more Americans favor Obama on foreign policy issues.

The latest data, collected through Sunday, indicate that 40 percent of likely voters believe Obama has a better plan for combating terrorism, compared with 31.5 percent for Romney. In dealing with Iran, 35.4 percent of likely voters favored Obama; 30.9 percent backed Romney.


Obama's campaign portrayed Romney's speech as the latest in a series of failed attempts by the Republican to look like a statesman on foreign policy.

Obama aides cast Romney as unfit to be commander-in-chief because of his gaffe-filled overseas trip in July and his much-criticized immediate reaction to the Libyan attack. Romney blasted Obama's actions before it was clear that Stevens had been killed in Benghazi, and was accused of injecting politics into a national tragedy.

“This is somebody who leads with chest-pounding rhetoric,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said of Romney. “He has been clumsy in his handling of foreign policy.”

Romney promised that if elected on Nov. 6, he would vigorously pursue those responsible for the Libyan attack, as Obama has vowed to do.

During his speech, Romney pledged to tighten sanctions on Iran and deploy warships in the region to press Tehran to give up a nuclear program the West believes is aimed at producing atomic bombs.

Romney also said he would increase military assistance and coordination with Israel, which has threatened a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Romney pledged that his administration would work to find elements of the Syrian opposition who share U.S. values and ensure they obtain weapons needed to defeat President Bashir al-Assad's forces. Syrian rebels have accused the United States and Western allies of sitting on the sidelines of the conflict.

“Iran is sending arms to Assad because they know his downfall would be a strategic defeat for them,” Romney said. “We should be working no less vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran – rather than sitting on the sidelines.”

Psaki, the Obama campaign spokeswoman, noted that Romney's foreign policy team includes several former advisers to George W. Bush, Obama's predecessor and the architect of the unpopular war in Iraq.

Romney has “surrounded himself with a number of people who were advisers to past President Bush, people who have used saber-rattling rhetoric when it comes to Syria and Iran,” Psaki said. “That's something … we think the American people should take a look at.”

Time running out for Annan’s Syria peace plan, Britain’s U.N. envoy says

Britain’s U.N. envoy said on Thursday time was running out for international mediator Kofi Annan’s plan to bring peace to Syria and that the U.N. Security Council needs to take “much tougher action” to enforce the six-point strategy.

Violence has surged in recent weeks after an April 12 ceasefire negotiated by Annan failed to take hold. Annan’s plan calls for an end to all violence by government and rebel forces, aid access, and dialogue between the government and opposition aimed at starting a political transition for the country.

“We’re very focused on the moment on imposing, making live, the Kofi Annan six-point plan,” Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, told reporters. “We are calling on the Syrian regime to begin to implement the commitments … So far it has not done so; instead it is brutally killing its people.”

“We’re seeing a series of massacres day after day right across Syria,” he said. “So time is clearly running out for the Kofi Annan plan but all our energies at the moment are focused on making that plan work.”

An uprising against President Bashar al-Assad and his family’s four-decade rule began as a peaceful pro-democracy movement in March 2011 but in the face of a crackdown by his forces has turned into an armed insurgency.

The United Nations says more than 10,000 people have been killed by government forces, while Syria says at least 2,600 members of the military and security forces have been killed by what it calls foreign-backed “Islamist terrorists.”

World powers are divided over the next move. Russia and China, both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council with veto power, have blocked efforts by Western powers to condemn Assad or call for his removal.

“It is time for the Security Council to take much tougher action to enforce the Kofi Annan plan,” Lyall Grant said.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday that one option under consideration at the council was a no-fly zone, after increasing reports of Syrian forces using helicopter gunships to fire on rebel strongholds, and U.S. concern that Russia was selling Syria more helicopters.

Lyall Grant made clear they were not considering military action, which council diplomats say Russia would almost certainly veto.

“We’re not focusing on that sort of measure at the moment,” he said.

U.N. diplomats have said that the five permanent members of U.N. Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – would hold high-level talks on Syria on the sidelines of next week’s summit meeting of the Group of 20 club of powerful developed and developing nations in Mexico.

Among the issues they will discuss is a possible council resolution that would impose sanctions on Damascus, envoys say.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Bill Trott

Guest not: Britain takes back Syria’s wedding invite

Britain rescinded an invitation to the royal wedding to Syria’s ambassador because of Syrian government attacks on anti-government protesters.

The invitation was withdrawn Thursday, the day before the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, according to reports, citing Britain’s Foreign Office.

More than 450 anti-government protesters have been killed by Syrian forces during the month of demonstrations. Hundreds more reportedly have been jailed.

“In the light of this week’s attacks against civilians by the Syrian security forces, which we have condemned, the foreign secretary has decided that the presence of the Syrian ambassador at the royal wedding would be unacceptable and that he should not attend,” a Foreign Office statement said, adding that Buckingham Palace was in agreement.

Ignoring the lessons of the past

Why would Syria, Iran and the terror groups they jointly sponsor so utterly deride the notion that the West will ever unite to effectively deter them? An early case in point is the small
matter of Nezar Hindawi and the Syrian bid to bomb El Al.

In a London courtroom 20 years ago this winter, a naive Irish woman who had recently given birth to a daughter screamed abuse from the witness stand at the child’s father, an impassive Arab man who was sitting across from her in the dock.

“You bastard,” Ann Murphy shouted hysterically at Nezar Hindawi. “How could you do this to me?”

And then, being the well-raised, polite woman that she was, Murphy, who had hitherto maintained her composure through a day and a half of harrowing testimony, immediately turned to the judge to apologize for her lapse.

Moments later, though, she lost control again.

“I hate you. I hate you,” she wailed at Hindawi, whose dispassionate expression still didn’t crack.

Ann Murphy was the “human time bomb” who had been viciously primed by Hindawi to unwittingly carry a bomb on board an El Al plane from London’s Heathrow Airport to Tel Aviv earlier that year.

In what the prosecution described, truly without hyperbole, as “one of the most callous acts of all time,” the Jordanian-born Hindawi had befriended and ultimately proposed marriage to Murphy, bought her a ticket to Tel Aviv 10 days after she accepted his professions of everlasting love, and told her that while his work commitments meant he’d have to fly in via a different route, he’d meet her in the Holy Land for their wedding.

Instead, he had been intending to send her, their unborn child and the 380 other innocents aboard that April 17, 1986, flight to their deaths. He had placed a slab of plastic explosives in the false bottom of the travel bag he had purchased for her, and then helped her pack her holiday clothes on top of it. In a taxi en route to the airport, he had fiddled with the calculator he had asked her to take out as a present for a friend, Murphy testified; in fact, he was setting the bomb timer. The device had been programmed to detonate when the El Al jumbo was at 39,000 feet, above Austria. It would have ripped the plane apart.

Mr. “A.,” an El Al security agent on check-in duty at Heathrow, discovered the bomb. Giving evidence at the trial from behind a screen to protect his identity, he testified that he became suspicious of what seemed an inordinately heavy bag and, having emptied out its contents, discovered the false compartment.

It is likely, too, that El Al’s well-honed routine screening procedures had already identified Murphy as worthy of particular attention: She had only just got her passport, the ticket was newly purchased and she was five months pregnant and traveling alone. The most rudimentary questioning, revealing the Arab fiancé who was purportedly flying out separately, must have instantly set the alarm bells ringing.

On Oct. 24, 1986, after the jury had unanimously found him guilty, Nezar Hindawi was sent to jail for 45 years — the longest prison sentence in British legal history.

That same day, Britain severed its diplomatic relations with Syria, giving ambassador Loutouf al-Haydar seven days to close up his embassy and leave.

Syria was comprehensively tied to the failed bombing of El Al flight 016.

Hindawi was arrested in possession of a Damascus-issued “Syrian service passport” — the kind used for “official government business,” the court heard. He told police under questioning that he had been dispatched on his bombing mission by the head of Syrian Air Force intelligence, Muhammad al-Khouli, one of president Hafez Assad’s closest advisers, having been motivated by the combination of hatred for Israel and the promise of a $250,000 reward. The bomb, he went on, had been smuggled into the United Kingdom by Syrian officials in a Syrian diplomatic bag on a Syrian Arab Airlines (SAA) plane. He had been taught how to handle it and how to set the timer by another senior Syrian intelligence official, Haithan Said, a deputy of al-Khouli’s.

Having abandoned Murphy and her fellow passengers to their intended fate at Heathrow, Hindawi went back to his hotel and collected his bags, planning on returning to the airport for an SAA flight to Paris. But hearing news that the bomb had been discovered, he went instead to the Syrian embassy, where he met with ambassador Haydar, a senior diplomat who was also very close to the late Assad. Haydar called Damascus for guidance; Syrian embassy officials were instructed to take Hindawi in an embassy car to have his hair cut and dyed, presumably in preparation for smuggling him out of the country.

But realizing, belatedly, that the Syrian government might not be planning to accord the gentlest treatment to a failed bomber who could implicate some of its most senior personnel in a horrific attempt at state-sponsored terrorism, Hindawi gave the Syrians the slip. He was taken into police custody the following day.

Under questioning, Hindawi sang like a bird about Syria’s terror tentacles. He tied Damascus to a terror attack at Rome airport in 1985 and to another at a Paris newspaper office in 1982. He directed police to two weapons caches outside London, detailed how SAA crew members regularly brought explosives and arms into the UK and provided information on terror cells in the UK, Italy and Germany.

According to some reports, British intelligence had been tracking Hindawi for two months before the bomb plot was thwarted, having intercepted and decoded communications between the Syrian embassy and Damascus. Britain’s MI5 reportedly witnessed Hindawi meeting with embassy officials and received rare official permission to bug the embassy. True or not, the fact is that Britain’s foreign secretary at the time, Sir Geoffrey Howe, told Parliament immediately after Hindawi had been convicted that Britain had incontrovertible proof of the Syrian government’s deep involvement in the “monstrous and inhumane crime.”

“We have independent evidence that the Syrian ambassador was personally involved … in securing for Hindawi the sponsorship of the Syrian intelligence authorities,” Howe told his colleagues in the House of Commons. “The whole house will be outraged by the Syrian role in this case…. We have therefore decided to break diplomatic relations with Syria.”