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CIA chief visits Israel, region to assist with Gaza war issues

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US Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns visited Israel on Monday and will next proceed to meet top political and intelligence officials in Qatar, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan.

In his first trip to the region since the October 7 Hamas invasion, Burns met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Mossad Director David Barnea, and others.

Unlike some ceremonial visits, Israeli officials viewed Burns as a professional working on trying to positively impact issues such as returning Israeli and other hostages taken by Hamas as well as negotiating assistance by other countries in the region to help run Gaza in the future, presuming Israel successfully topples Hamas.

Qatar has been a key intermediary on the hostages issue, while Egypt is important both for humanitarian aid and Gaza’s future.

From Washington’s viewpoint, Burns was here to try to shift opinion within the defense establishment to allowing for pauses to the fighting, which could facilitate more humanitarian aid, and possibly Hamas’s freeing some hostages.

Smoke rises after Israeli strikes, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Gaza City November 6, 2023. (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED AL-MASRI)

To date, Israel has allowed in humanitarian aid but has limited certain items that Hamas wants, like fuel, and it has demanded the release of hostages for any pause in the fighting, as well as that pause being extremely short so it will not turn into a ceasefire.

In July, it was announced that Barnea had recently met with Burns and a variety of other senior White House officials to help frame the trilateral Israel-Saudi Arabia-US deal, whose negotiations had finally gone public.

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In September 2022, Barnea told Burns and other top American officials in meetings in Washington that “Israel will not stand by while Iran continues to defraud the world” about its nuclear program and terrorism.

During those meetings, Barnea presented Burns and others with “sensitive intelligence” to hammer home his point regarding the Islamic Republic’s lies.

The Mossad chief said his US counterparts responded by saying, “The US will maintain its commitment to Israeli security… and will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.”

Further, he said the Biden team told him “they would continue to cooperate fully with the State of Israel including regional situations in the Middle East and which relate to Israeli security.”

Burns and Barnea first met in Israel in August 2021 shortly after the Mossad chief took office.

Also on Monday, CENTCOM announced that an Ohio-class nuclear submarine had arrived in the region, publishing a photo of it going through the Suez Canal.

The submarine joins two aircraft carrier strike groups and a large number of offensive aircraft which the US has moved into the region since October 7 to deter Hezbollah, Iran, and others from going too far in provoking Israel as it fights Hamas.

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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