has complained bitterly for months that Syria is actively aiding and abetting terrorism both from Lebanon and inside Israel, it is not interested in seeing Syrian President Bashar Assad's
regime fall, a senior diplomatic official said Saturday night.
The official said Israel was concerned that if Assad were to be toppled
as a result of international isolation and pressure, this could unleash a civil war and the type of chaos similar to that now taking place in Iraq, which could spill over to Israel's northern border.
â€œInfighting, chaos and civil war in Syria, like that taking place in Iraq, is not necessarily beneficial to Israel,â€ the official said. On the other hand, the official said Assad's collapse could lead to the emergence of a pro-Western and Western-backed leader in the same mold as Palestinian Authority
Chairman Mahmoud Abbas
(Abu Mazen) who would likely have difficulty asserting his authority.
In this case, the official said, Israel might then come under considerable international pressure to â€œprop him upâ€ by entering into negotiations with him over the Golan Heights
. â€œAn Abu Mazen on Israel's northern border is not necessarily in our interests,â€ he said.
Israel was interested in Syria changing its behavior, but not necessarily its regime, the official said.
For this reason, he added, Israel was backing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's
approach of using pressure on Assad to get him to change his policy rather than a policy calling for regime change in Damascus
that was being advocated by some in the Pentagon.
â€œConsidering the difficulty the US is having in Iraq and Afghanistan
, I don't think they can handle another regime change in the Middle East,â€ he said. â€œThe ensuing chaos and infighting is not something the US needs right now,â€ nor, he said, was it something in Israel's interests.
Israel's preferred policy, he said, was that being advocated by Rice: to keep the pressure on Assad to change Syria's policies and stop supporting terrorism.
Talk of Assad's collapse has intensified in recent days following Wednesday's death of Ghazi Kenaan, Syria's interior minister and former strongman in Lebanon. Syria's claim that he committed suicide has been widely dismissed, with the conventional wisdom in Jerusalem
maintaining that he simply â€œknew too muchâ€ about the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri
, and that he would be Assad's scapegoat following what was expected to be a damning UN report on the assassination scheduled for release later this month.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom
, however, indicated on Israel Radio Friday that Israel was not opposed to regime change in Syria.
â€œOur interest is to tell the world that Syria is implicated up to its neck in terrorism, a terrorism that is directed not just against Israel but against coalition forces in Iraq,â€ he said. â€œAnd this is why it is in the interest of the entire world that there is another state in Syria, one that is freer and more democratic.â€
Shalom was noncommittal regarding whether he believed Assad's regime was in its final days. â€œThe future will tell us if this regime is close to the end or not,â€ he said. â€œBut there is no doubt that Assad has achieved something amazing: uniting the whole world against Syria.â€
Shalom said that Israel had no intention of getting tangled in what was happening inside Syria, and that this was unnecessary since the â€œentire international communityâ€ was already very much involved.