GENERALLY speaking President Bush does try to answer questions put to him at his media briefings. His answers may be off the target, but he tries. So when he twice refused to comment on a matter raised with him on Thursday interest in the subject naturally intensified. The question was about the Israeli airstrike in Northern Syria on September 8 that Syria protested about in rather mild terms and North Korea condemned more forcibly. North Korea? What was it complaining about?

Slowly the pieces have been put in place and with the help of information from Israeli sources a picture emerges of a Syrian nuclear-related facility that North Korea has been helping to equip. On Thursday Mr Bush did allow himself to say: “We expect the North Koreans to honour their commitment to give up weapons and weapons programmes, and to stop proliferation.” Someone less able to button his lip than Mr Bush is the Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu who told journalists that he endorsed action for Israel's security and added, “I was party to this matter, I must say, from the start, and I gave it my backing.” Until Mr Netanyahu spoke, news of the airstrike on North Syria had been censored in Israel although information about it naturally leaked from foreign sources. Did President Bush know in advance that the attack was going to take place? Was it in any way similar to Israel's 1981 bombing of Iraq's Osiraq nuclear reactor?