Jul 31, 2023 - World

Scoop: Israel's Mossad chief secretly visited D.C. to discuss Biden's Saudi initiative

Mossad director David Barnea. Photo: Chaim Tzach/Israel's GPO

Mossad director David Barnea. Photo: Chaim Tzach/Israel's GPO

Mossad director David Barnea secretly visited Washington nearly two weeks ago for talks with senior White House and CIA officials about the Biden administration’s efforts to reach an agreement with Saudi Arabia that would include normalization between the kingdom and Israel, two U.S. sources told Axios.

Driving the news: The Israel-Saudi normalization issue is only a small part of the Biden administration's efforts. The Israeli government wants to give its input on potential U.S.-Saudi bilateral agreements the two countries are discussing that would likely affect Israel's security, including possible U.S. support for a Saudi civilian nuclear program with uranium enrichment and potential U.S. arms sales to Riyadh.

State of play: U.S. officials previously told Axios that the White House wants to try to complete its diplomatic push with Saudi Arabia and Israel by the end of the year or the beginning of next year before the presidential election campaign consumes President Biden's agenda.

  • White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan traveled to Saudi Arabia last week and met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior Saudi officials.
  • The White House said after the meeting Sullivan and MBS discussed bilateral and regional matters “including initiatives to advance a common vision for a more peaceful, secure, prosperous, and stable Middle East region interconnected with the world."

Behind the scenes: U.S. sources said Barnea met with Sullivan at the White House ahead of the Biden adviser's trip to Saudi Arabia.

  • Barnea also met with Brett McGurk, the White House Middle East czar, and Amos Hochstein, Biden’s senior adviser for energy and infrastructure. McGurk and Hochstein, who have been working on improving U.S.-Saudi relations for the last 18 months, joined Sullivan on his recent trip to the kingdom.
  • The Saudi Arabia initiative was the main issue discussed during Barnea's meetings with the White House officials, the sources said.
  • Barnea and CIA director Bill Burns also discussed the Saudi initiative, as well as Iran, one U.S. source said.

What they're saying: A White House National Security Council spokesperson declined to comment specifically about the meeting between Sullivan and Barnea.

  • “We continue to support for normalization with Israel, including with Saudi Arabia, and obviously continue to talk to our regional partners about how more progress can be made," the spokesperson said. "It’s one effort we are pursuing toward advancing U.S. foreign policy goals for a more peaceful, secure, prosperous and stable Middle East region."
  • The CIA declined to comment.

The big picture: Burns in his meeting with Barnea also raised the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul, according to a U.S. source who said "there was a general discussion about it."

  • Several days after the meeting, Israel's governing coalition passed a law that weakened the Supreme Court’s ability to review government decisions.
  • Biden had urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the days leading up to the vote to not go through with it and to find a broad consensus over judicial reform instead.
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