CIA director visits Israel and Middle East amid Israel-Hamas war

William J. Burns, the CIA director, arrived in Israel on Sunday for talks with leaders and intelligence officials, the first stop on a multi-country trip to the region, according to US officials.

The visit comes as the United States tries to push Israel to take a more targeted approach to attacking Hamas, allow pauses in fighting to allow aid to enter Gaza and do more to avoid civilian casualties.

The United States is also trying to expand intelligence sharing with Israel, providing information that could be useful for hostage locations or any subsequent attacks by Hamas. A US official briefed on Mr Burns’ trip said he planned to strengthen US commitment to intelligence cooperation with partners in the region.

Mr. Burns will travel to several Middle Eastern countries for discussions on the situation in Gaza, ongoing hostage negotiations and the importance of preventing the war with Hamas from escalating into a broader context, the US official said.

US officials have been visiting Israel at a regular rate since war broke out after Hamas militants attacked Israeli towns on October 7, killing more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians. Israel responded with a punitive air campaign and 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 tell Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and key national security officials that there are more effective ways to cripple Hamas than an intense air campaign.

A CIA spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on the director’s travel.

Mr Burns, who has extensive experience in the region, having been visited by key intelligence leaders in Israel, has been heavily criticized for failing to spot the attack and the wider threat from Hamas.

As one of the Biden administration’s most trusted voices on Middle East issues, Mr. Burns has become something of a roving troubleshooting diplomat for the White House.

Visits by US officials, particularly President Biden, have had an impact on Israelis, many of whom have grown disillusioned with Mr Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis. But there are tensions between Israeli officials and their American counterparts as the United States pushes Israel to embrace a military campaign that is more concerned with minimizing civilian casualties.

American officials say they are not telling Israelis what to do, but are advising them on their own experiences of the Iraq war and are weighing in on Mr. Netanyahu’s government the importance of not emulating America’s mistakes after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. .

Mr. Burns’ visit to the Arab countries may be just 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 Mr Biden after an explosion at a Gaza hospital resulted in high casualties. While the United States and Israel have blamed Hamas for the blast, Hamas said Israel was responsible. Much of Jordan’s population is ethnically Palestinian, putting the country, a close US ally that has a peace treaty with Israel, in a particularly difficult position as it deals with the fallout from the war.

Mr. Burns has a particularly close relationship with King Abdullah. He was the ambassador to Jordan when King Hussein died and Abdullah ascended the throne. King Abdullah recently wrote a letter praising Mr. Burns’ diplomatic skills for a ceremony honoring the CIA director.

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