Israel-Hamas, hostage negotiations: the ‘director’ is the director of the CIA

The central role of Burns, protagonist behind the scenes

There is a director behind the negotiations between Israel and Hamas for the release of the hostages held in the Gaza Strip for almost 2 months. It is William Burns, director of the CIA, key negotiator for the crisis. He reached Qatar yesterday to participate in confidential meetings with Israeli intelligence leaders and the Prime Minister of Qatar aimed at agreeing on an expansion of the truce between Israel and Hamas. By attributing the news to three anonymous sources familiar with the meetings, the Washington Post underlines the central role played by Burns in this crisis.

Burns is the main negotiator for the United States in the hostage crisis, appreciated by US President Joe Biden for his network of contacts in the Middle East and, in particular, within the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad. “They listen to him and respect him a lot,” explained a source quoted by the newspaper.

Diplomat, former American ambassador to Moscow, he is often chosen by Biden to manage the administration’s most sensitive but also uncomfortable challenges, from warnings to Russia over the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine to negotiations with the Taliban in the context of the American evacuation crisis from Afghanistan. In the current Middle Eastern crisis, his role takes on particular importance in light of the centrality of Mossad chief David Barnea for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Barnea is the key figure in Israel for these negotiations,” underlines Natan Sachs, an Israeli scholar at the Brookings Institution think tank, quoted by the Washington Post. “He is the one authorized to speak on behalf of the prime minister.”

More lateral to Netanyahu’s close circle of trust are the Israeli intelligence minister, Gila Gamliel, and the foreign minister, Eli Cohen, reveal the observers the US newspaper spoke to. And this makes Burns’ meetings with his counterpart an essential moment in the search for agreements. “Secretary of State Antony Blinken would be the counterpart if the Israeli foreign minister had more influence than him” on the government, “but that is not the case,” according to Sachs.

The Burns-Barnea Canal was ‘commissioned’ earlier this month when the two met in Qatar to discuss a pause in fighting and outlines for the release of hostages, together with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani on November 9.

Hours after the meeting concluded, the White House announced that Israel would begin four-hour pauses in northern Gaza to allow Palestinians to flee the zone of hostilities, a step welcomed by the White House but not up to par expectations of multi-day breaks.

Burns is currently pushing for Hamas and Israel to expand ongoing hostage negotiations, so far limited to the release of women and children, to include men and military personnel. He is also pushing to agree a longer pause, more days of pause in the fighting, with Israel demanding that Hamas release at least 10 people for every day of pause in the war.

Burns – the Washington Post also reports – is pushing for the immediate release of the American hostages held by Hamas. U.S. officials believe there are eight or nine of those hostages. To a request for confirmation from the Washington Post on the CIA director’s new mission, the intelligence agency responded by underlining the secrecy of Burns’ trip.