Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a weekend interview that recent press reports notwithstanding, Israel did not offer Syria the Golan Heights in secret negotiations. The reports, which were also denied by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, appeared in anti-Netanyahu newspaper Yediot Aharonot.
Speaking on Channel 2's Meet the Press, Barak admitted that there were contacts with Syria. "It was an opportunity to disconnect Syria from the Axis of Evil, which includes Iran and Hizbullah, and it was worth looking into. This is a step that would have had a positive and clear effect on Israel's security, and it was worthwhile to consider many things for something like this."
However, Barak said – "I did not hear from Netanyahu that he favors a withdrawal; the headlines that were written on this subject were not connected to reality."
"Although [Netanyahu] is now a political rival, my honest answer is 'no' – it never reached negotiations," he added. "This was an American initiative that reached a stage at which we thought that it would be unwise to throw it into the wastebasket immediately. They were just checking if there was anything to talk about.
"True, there were several meetings, four or five, but we have had such meetings vis-à-vis other countries as well," the Independence party leader said. "We are serious and responsible people," he explained, "one does not offer free gifts. But it is good to be attentive to opportunities, and it is good to reject them when there is nothing to talk about."