Three ways Middle East fighting threatens US national security

As fighting in the Middle East continues this week – from Israel to Iraq – some senior US military officials are acknowledging that they are pessimistic about the prospect for peace in the region. “Is there going to be peace in the Middle East?” Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), asked himself aloud last week, before an audience of national security specialists. “Not in my lifetime. Not in my lifetime.” 

Pentagon analysts are increasingly grappling with what this growing unrest means for US national security. Here are the top three ways the advance of the insurgent group the Islamic State in Iraq and violence in Gaza could endanger US national security.

Amir Cohen/Reuters
Smoke rises from an explosion in the minaret of a mosque in the southern Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014. The Israeli military said on Wednesday it would hold fire unilaterally in limited areas of the Gaza Strip for four hours from 3 p.m. (1200 GMT) for humanitarian purposes, an army statement said.Hamas described the truce as a media stunt because it only applied to some areas.

1. Hamas could be replaced by a group able to use chemical weapons

Khalil Hamra/AP
Smoke rises in the skyline from Israeli strikes in eastern Gaza City early Wednesday amid Israel's heaviest air and artillery assault in more than three weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting.

If Hamas is destroyed, an even more dangerous group – intent on obtaining biological or chemical weapons – could step in and take its place.

That was the sobering warning from General Flynn. “If Hamas were fully destroyed – and, you know, and gone – we would probably probably end up with something much worse, or the region would end up with something much worse,” he said in remarks at the Aspen Security Forum last week. 

This is on the radar screen of the Israeli government as they wage war in Gaza, he added. “I think that they recognize this, you know, better than anybody.”

There is, too, the possibility that these groups could procure biological or chemical agents from depots in Syria given the chaos of war there, Flynn added, calling it “one of the most dangerous threats.”  

Despite international efforts to collect and destroy them, “There are still chemical weapons or chemical capabilities in that part of the world,” he said. “And in the hands of people who I know have the intent to use them, we need to be concerned about that.”

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