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(photo credit: AP)
Israel and the US are at odds over the future of Syria in a post-Bashar Assad era, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
In a strategic dialogue held last week in Washington between the two countries, Israeli representatives warned that a future regime in Syria, should Assad lose power, might be just as problematic as the old one.
The Israelis projected three possible scenarios if the current regime does fall - all of them dangerous for the stability of the region.
The first was the possibility that Syria would deteriorate into total chaos and plunge into some sort of civil war; the second was that Assad would be succeeded by another member of the ruling Alawite sect who would be a hardliner like Assad; or, third, that an extreme Islamic regime would take over the country.
Sources briefed on the content of the talks said these Israeli warnings stood in stark contrast to the American view as it was presented in the dialogue. The Americans said they believed that, after Assad, Syria would go through an evolutionary process similar to the one Lebanon has experienced in the past year, and would transform into a free political society.
This optimistic scenario is based on the positive experience in Lebanon and the significant pro-reform forces already active in Syria.
The fact that Israeli and American officials were discussing "day after" scenarios for Syria does not indicate that the US has a plan for regime change in Syria, however.
According to the sources, the conversation was part of a joint attempt by Israel and the US to map out the long-term goals of both countries in the region and discuss future possibilities.
The two sides also discussed the wider issue of democratization in the Arab world and, here too, the Israelis said they were not as optimistic as the Americans regarding the prospects of promoting democratic reforms in the region.
The Israeli delegation was headed by Minister Tzahi Hanegbi and the US group was led by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns.
While the sides differed in their views concerning the future of Syria, there was agreement on the current situation in the country. The Israeli participants pointed out that it was important for Israel to know that the fact that Syria is allowing insurgents and terrorists to enter Iraq and fights American soldiers was not the only issue the US administration has with Bashar Assad's regime. Israel sees Syrian support of Hizbullah as a significant threat and also would like to see Assad close the offices of Palestinian terror groups operating from Damascus.
The American delegation assured the Israelis that the Iraqi border was just one of the issues that the US would like to deal with and that Assad was expected to act on a variety of issues, including closing the Iraqi border, ending support to terror organizations and ceasing all involvement in neighboring Lebanon.