AMMAN: CIA Director Bill Burns arrived in Israel on Tuesday as part of a three-day visit to the region, his first trip there since becoming head of the US intelligence service.
Hussein Al-Sheikh, Palestinian minister of civil affairs and a confidant of President Mahmoud Abbas, told Arab News that Burns’ visit to Ramallah was scheduled for Thursday.
Israeli media reported that his talks were expected to focus on Iran, amid heightened tension over an alleged Iranian attack on an Israeli-linked oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman and an escalation between Israel and Hezbollah on the Israeli-Lebanese border.
Vera Baboun, the former Bethlehem mayor who recently met the US State Department’s Middle East point person Hady Amr, told Arab News there was a chance that peace efforts would get a push because of the visit.
Burns had been a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and she thought it possible that, as a result of his “deep understanding” of the nature and complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict, he would give “new momentum” to the peace efforts. But Wadie Abu Nassar, director of the Haifa-based International Center for Consultations, told Arab News that the US was “not really pressing” Israel to offer Palestinians hope for a state and, as such, moderate Arabs were not convinced they would get something by talking about peace. “On the other hand, the US is putting military options off the table vis-a-vis Iran and has even stopped Israel from going for such options vis-a-vis Hezbollah or Hamas,” said Abu Nassar.
US media outlet Axios reported that Burns would meet David Barnea, director of Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and other senior defense and intelligence officials.
Palestinian media said Burns was expected to visit Ramallah to meet Palestinian intelligence chief Majed Faraj as well as Abbas.
While intelligence issues regarding Iran are often shared between what is called the “Five Eyes of intelligence” — Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US — Mossad is said to be the foreign intelligence service with the closest ties to the CIA.
During the presidency of Donald Trump, the CIA and Mossad worked jointly on many operations against Iran, according to Axios.
The CIA also has very close cooperation with the Palestinian intelligence service on counterterrorism, which the agency maintained even after all other communication between the Trump and the Abbas governments broke down.
In 2013, Burns and US national security adviser Jake Sullivan led the back channel talks with Iran that preceded the nuclear deal.
The two are said to have flown secretly to Oman to meet their Iranian counterparts in order to overcome all obstacles. The trip was reportedly carried out without notifying Israel or other allies.