William J. Burns’s visit comes as the United States tries to prod Israel to pursue a more targeted approach to attacking Hamas, allow pauses in the fighting and do more to avoid civilian casualties.
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William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, is one of the Biden administration’s most trusted voices on Middle East issues.
William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, arrived in Israel on Sunday for discussions with leaders and intelligence officials, the first stop in a multicountry trip in the region, according to U.S. officials.
The visit comes as the United States is trying to prod Israel to pursue a more targeted approach to attacking Hamas, allow pauses in the fighting for aid to enter Gaza and do more to avoid civilian casualties.
The United States is also looking to expand its intelligence sharing with Israel, providing information that could be useful about hostage locations or any follow-on attacks by Hamas. A U.S. official briefed on Mr. Burns’s trip said he planned to reinforce the American commitment to intelligence cooperation with partners in the region.
Mr. Burns will travel to several Middle Eastern countries for discussions about the situation in Gaza, ongoing hostage negotiations and the importance of deterring the war with Hamas from widening to a broader context, the U.S. official said.
U.S. officials have been visiting Israel at a regular cadence since war broke out after Hamas fighters attacked Israeli towns on Oct. 7 and killed more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians. Israel has retaliated with a punishing air campaign and ground invasion into 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. U.S. officials said their estimates of the number of Palestinians killed was similar.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken arrived on Friday to make the case 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 spokeswoman for the C.I.A. said the agency does not comment on the director’s travel.
Mr. Burns, who has extensive experience in the region, visited as key intelligence leaders in Israel have been heavily criticized for failing to detect the attack and the threat from Hamas more broadly.
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.
The visits by American officials, particularly President Biden, have made an impact on Israelis, many of whom have been frustrated with Mr. Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis. Still, there are tensions between Israeli officials and their American counterparts, as the United States pushes Israel to embrace a military campaign that takes more care to minimize civilian casualties.
American officials say they are not telling Israelis what to do, but they are advising them about their own experiences with the Iraq war and drilling into Mr. Netanyahu’s government the importance of not imitating America’s missteps after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Mr. Burns’s visit to 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 Mr. Biden after a blast at a Gaza hospital led to high 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 tricky position as it navigates 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 to the throne. King Abdullah recently wrote a letter praising Mr. Burns’s diplomatic skills for a ceremony honoring the C.I.A. director.
Julian E. Barnes covers the U.S. intelligence agencies and international security matters for The Times. He has written about security issues for more than two decades. More about Julian E. Barnes
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