CIA director visits Israel (News21USA): William J. Burns, director of the CIA, arrived in Israel on Sunday for talks with intelligence leaders and officials, the first stop on a trip to several countries in the region, according to US officials.
The visit comes as the United States tries to pressure Israel to take a more targeted approach to attacking Hamas, allow pauses in fighting to allow aid into Gaza and do more to prevent civilian casualties.
The United States is also seeking to expand its intelligence sharing with Israel, providing information that could be useful about hostage locations or any subsequent Hamas attacks. A U.S. official briefed on Burns’ trip said he planned to reinforce U.S. commitment to intelligence cooperation with partners in the region.
Burns will travel to several Middle Eastern countries to discuss the situation in Gaza, the ongoing hostage negotiations and the importance of deterring the expansion of the war with Hamas into a broader context, the US official said.
American officials have been visiting Israel regularly since the war broke out after Hamas fighters attacked Israeli cities on October 7, killing more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians. Israel has responded with a harsh air campaign and a ground invasion of Gaza, where Hamas is in control. More than 9,000 Palestinians have been killed in airstrikes since Israel began retaliating, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. US officials said their estimates of the number of Palestinians killed were similar.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken arrived Friday to explain to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and key national security officials that there are more effective ways to cripple Hamas than the intense air campaign.
A CIA spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on the director’s travels.
Burns, who has extensive experience in the region, visited Israel as key intelligence leaders and was heavily criticized for failing to detect the attack and the Hamas threat in general.
As one of the Biden administration’s most trusted voices on Middle East issues, Burns has become something of a roving problem-solving diplomat for the White House.
Visits by American officials, particularly President Biden, have had an impact on Israelis, many of whom have been frustrated with Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis. Still, tensions exist between Israeli officials and their American counterparts, as the United States pressures Israel to adopt a military campaign that takes greater care to minimize civilian casualties.
U.S. officials say they are not telling Israelis what to do, but they are advising them on their own experiences with the Iraq war and impressing on Netanyahu’s government the importance of not imitating U.S. missteps after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Mr. Burns’ visit to the Arab countries may be as important as his meetings in Israel.
His exact itinerary is unclear, but he is expected to visit Jordan. King Abdullah II canceled a meeting with Biden after an explosion at a Gaza hospital caused mass casualties. While the United States and Israel have blamed Hamas for the explosion, Hamas has said Israel is responsible. Much of Jordan’s population is ethnically Palestinian, putting the country, a close U.S. ally that has a peace treaty with Israel, in an especially difficult position as it navigates the fallout from the war.
Burns has a particularly close relationship with King Abdullah. He was ambassador to Jordan when King Hussein died and Abdullah ascended the throne. King Abdullah recently wrote a letter praising Burns’ diplomatic skills for a ceremony honoring the CIA director.