Many were left slack-jawed at what was supposed to be a press briefing by Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak following a hastily arranged meeting with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon in New York City on Friday.
The session, lasting just a few minutes, amounted to nothing more than a mumbled statement and a hurried retreat by the defense minister.
Barak, on his way home from earlier consultations at the White House with Vice-President Dick Cheney, was briefed by Ban on a variety of issues which included the Iran nuclear crisis, the situation in southern Lebanon and the status of kidnapped Israeli soldiers held by Hezbollah since July 2006, say U.N. sources.
Both the U.N. and Israel's U.N. mission sent out advance press advisories stating that Barak "would meet journalists" upon the conclusion of his consultations with the secretary-general.
First on most reporters minds were questions related to Israel's strike on a Syrian military installation on Sept. 6.
The facility is widely believed to have been a nuclear bomb production compound in the early stages of construction. It is also widely believed that Barak himself commanded the operation. As such, it became obvious what questions were waiting for the visiting defense minister.
Arriving almost 30 minutes late, Barak mumbled a "list of subjects" discussed with Ban Ki-moon then lamely smiled and told reporters: "I am running late and have a plane to catch. Thank you."
The only question reporters were able to shout was, "Does that mean that you have decided not to answer any questions?"
Barak grinned, then accompanied by a small army of aides from Israel's defense ministry, bolted out the door.
One U.N. journalist, when asked about the "media availability" of Barak, stated, "It was outrageous, it was ridiculous."
What the former prime minister and IDF chief of staff did not know was the surprise waiting for him just a few hours later. First, Newsmax has learned that Barak intentionally misled the press when he claimed that he needed to catch a plane.
In fact, the minister was overnighting in New York City to observe the Jewish sabbath and was not scheduled to leave for Israel until Saturday evening.
Less than two hours after Barak waved off the press, ABC News released a story some on Capitol Hill called a breach of security.
Since the Sept. 6 Syrian raid, Israeli and U.S. officials have clamped what has been described as "a wall of silence" on any discussion of the subject.
While the silence has held among Israeli officials, the vow has been less than enforceable among White House personnel. Though President Bush has repeatedly refused any comment on the Israeli raid, it seems that has not been the case among other administration officials.
It is widely believed that Barak's visit to the White House was in fact a detailed briefing by the Israelis on their Syrian raid.
Shortly after the Cheney briefing, ABC's Martha Raddatz, began to produce an "exclusive" story on the raid for Friday's World News with Charles Gibson.
The U.S. sources not only filled in many of the details on the Israeli raid, they provided enough information for ABC to construct a computer generated animation on the attack itself. ABC reported that Israel destroyed a partially constructed concrete dome which, when completed, would have served as a containment vessel for a nuclear reactor.
In addition to the containment facility, Israel is said to have destroyed a water-pumping station located on a river bank nearby. That station, Israel believed, was to supply cooling water for the future nuclear reactor. But, most importantly, Raddatz reported that Israel's intelligence agency, the Mossad, had an agent inside the Syrian operation who had been supplying Tel Aviv with photographs for several months.
So, while Barak and Bush kept silent, others were more than willing to provide lurid details.
The Syrians themselves have compounded the follies by offering several accounts of what happened during the Israeli raid. Officially, Damascus denies any nuclear installation exists or was attacked.
The latest Syrian explanation was that Israel attacked a vacant storage facility that at one time may have held "some missiles." To prove their point, Damascus recently brought a group of reporters to the site of the Israeli attack. One problem, according to U.S. sources, is that the site the reporters visited was miles away from the actual location the Israelis hit.
The Syrians also provided some reporters with a video of the aftermath of the Israeli attack.
Another problem involves the computer disk that showed the video was shot in July 2006, not September 2007 (when the raid occurred). To add to the controversy, some Arab reporters who have viewed the Syrian video claim it looks more like southern Lebanon and not the desert area the raid was believe to have taken place in.
Syrian officials explain that the mysterious date on the CD was "a computer error," but would offer no other comment.
The video, which was also sent to Ban Ki-moon, has laid dormant in his office for over a month.
"I have seen it, but have no other comment," is all the U.N. chief would say.
Privately, U.N. officials tell Newsmax that the video did not show much and that they were confused what the Syrians wanted them to do with it. The Security Council, which would normally be consulted about such matters, has been ignored by both the Syrians and Israelis.
Ironically, Syria's U.N. mission decided not to send a representative to observe Barak's Friday press encounter, nor to comment on his brief fling with reporters.
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