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CIA director Bill Burns to visit Israel, Palestinian Authority

CIA director Bill Burns will visit Israel on Tuesday for the first time since assuming office for talks that are expected to focus on Iran, Israeli officials tell me. He's also expected to meet Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah.

Why it matters: Burns will arrive in Jerusalem with tensions running hot between Israel and Iran over an alleged Iranian attack on an Israeli-linked oil tanker and amid escalation between Israel and Hezbollah on the Israeli-Lebanese border.

  • He'll meet David Barnea, director of the Mossad intelligence agency, and is expected to meet Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other senior defense and intelligence officials.
  • Israeli officials say the talks will focus on Iran's nuclear program and regional activity, and that Israel hopes to hear more about U.S. policy toward the new Iranian government and a possible return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Burns is also expected to visit Ramallah to meet Palestinian intelligence chief Majed Faraj.

  • He's also expected to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Israeli officials say.
  • A spokesperson for the CIA declined to comment on Burns’ trip.

The big picture: Apart from the Five Eyes intelligence allies — Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and U.S. — Mossad is the foreign intelligence service with the closest ties to the CIA. During the Trump presidency, the CIA and Mossad worked jointly on many operations against Iran.

  • The CIA also has very close cooperation with the Palestinian intelligence service on counterterrorism, which the agency maintained even after all other communications between the Trump and Abbas governments broke down.

Flashback: Burns developed close relationships with many Israeli and Palestinian officials — including new Israeli ambassador to Washington Mike Herzog — during his long State Department career.

  • In 2013, Burns and national security advisor Jake Sullivan led the backchannel talks with Iran that preceded the nuclear deal, flying secretly to Oman to meet their Iranian counterparts without notifying Israel or other allies.
  • News of the talks sparked a deep crisis between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations.

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