A grim and unpredictable future could befall the Middle East if Hamas is destroyed, a top Pentagon official said, warning that another rampaging extremist group akin to the Islamic State terrorists could rise up in its place.
While Lt. General Michael Flynn criticized Hamas for exhausting finite resources of the Gaza Strip to build a network of tunnels for the purpose of fighting Israel, he nevertheless said that destroying the group would only lead to a widening of the regional conflict and probably an extremist group fighting in its stead.
“If Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse. The region would end up with something much worse,” Reuters quoted the outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency as saying on Saturday at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.
The Lt. General then envisioned an Iraq/Syria scenario, where large swathes of northern territories have fallen under control of the Islamist fighters of the Islamic Caliphate: “A worse threat that would come into the sort of ecosystem there… something like ISIS.”
With over 1,000 Palestinians now dead since Israel commenced the ground phase of its 20-day-old operation, a tentative 24-hour ceasefire ended on Sunday with hostilities renewing.
The pause in fighting was intended to open up a humanitarian corridor for food and medical care, but as Israel offered to extend the ceasefire it also warned that it would retaliate if Hamas continued to fire rockets from the Gaza territory.
For its part, Hamas refused to accept the ceasefire deal “without Israeli tanks withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and without residents being able to return to their homes and ambulances carrying bodies and being able to freely move around in Gaza,” their spokesman said.
To many in the world the conflict between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory looks to be never-ending. And they are worried that the same is now true for the Middle East at large. Flynn’s views were voiced in the midst of a broader assessment of conflicts in the region, which is now crumbling under the weight of terrorism.
Although few people would prefer another Islamic State-style faction taking over Hamas’ place, Flynn made clear that peace between the two warring sides would not happen “in my lifetime.”