Jan 27, 2023 - World

Scoop: CIA director visiting Israel, West Bank as concern over violence intensifies

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William Burns testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 10, 2022

CIA director William Burns testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 10, 2022. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

CIA director Bill Burns arrived in Tel Aviv on Thursday for visits to Israel and the occupied West Bank, where he is expected to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders and his counterparts on both sides, according to two U.S. sources with knowledge of the issue.

Why it matters: Burn’s visit was pre-planned but it takes place amid the most significant escalation of tensions between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in months.

  • The visit and Burns' meetings will likely be affected by the events on the ground.

State of play: Tensions in the region intensified on Thursday after the Israeli military killed nine Palestinians, including an elderly woman, during a raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank.

  • Several Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters were killed when a gunfight broke out during the raid. At least 20 Palestinians were wounded, including unarmed civilians.
  • The Israeli military said that prior to the raid it had received intelligence about a group of Islamic Jihad operatives it suspected of carrying out armed attacks against Israeli soldiers. The group was planning more attacks, the Israeli military claimed.

Not long after the raid, the Palestinian Authority suspended its security coordination with Israel, raising concerns the situation in the West Bank could escalate even further.

  • Overnight Thursday into Friday, the Islamic Jihad in Gaza fired several rockets toward Israel. Most were intercepted by Israel's Iron Done defense system. The Israeli air force retaliated with an air strike in Gaza.

The big picture: The last time the Palestinian Authority suspended its security coordination with Israel was in May 2020 following the Israeli government's plan to annex big parts of the West Bank.

  • The security coordination was restored several months later after the annexation was taken off the table as a result of the Abraham Accords. Still, the situation on the ground during this period significantly deteriorated.

Behind the scenes: The CIA has a close relationship with the Palestinian intelligence service and remained the sole communication channel between the U.S. and the Palestinian Authority when the latter severed relations with the Trump administration.

  • The CIA, in addition to U.S. security coordinator Lt. Gen. Michael Fenzel, also plays a key role in supporting the security and intelligence coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
  • Burns’ visit is part of a wider trip to the Middle East. On Monday, he visited Egypt and met with President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and discussed regional issues, counterterrorism and intelligence cooperation, the Egyptian presidency said.
  • The CIA declined to comment on Burn's visit to Israel and the West Bank.

What’s next: Secretary of State Tony Blinken is expected to travel to the region this weekend. He will visit Israel and the West Bank on Monday and Tuesday, according to the State Department.

  • State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the Biden administration is deeply concerned by the cycle of violence in the West Bank and called on all parties to de-escalate.
  • "We call on the parties to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.  Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely," Price said.

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