CIA Director Holds Secret Talks in Qatar to Broker Israel-Hamas Deal

CIA Director William J. Burns embarked on a discreet visit to Qatar for undisclosed discussions with Israel’s spy chief and Qatar’s prime minister, aiming to facilitate an extensive agreement between Israel and Hamas, according to informed sources. The focus of these talks revolves around expanding the scope of hostage negotiations between Israel and Hamas beyond women and children, incorporating the release of men and military personnel. Burns is also advocating for a prolonged multi day pause in fighting, coupled with Israel’s demand that Hamas release a specified number of individuals for each day of ceasefire.

Notably, Burns is actively working towards the immediate release of American hostages held by Hamas, estimated by U.S. officials to be between eight and nine individuals. The director’s travel and the nature of his discussions remain classified, with the CIA declining to comment on the matter.

Burns, known for his extensive contacts across the Middle East, particularly within Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, has become a key negotiator in the hostage crisis. President Biden values Burns for his diplomatic expertise, entrusting him with challenging tasks ranging from addressing nuclear weapons warnings in Ukraine to negotiating with the Taliban during the Afghanistan evacuation crisis.

In the context of the Israel-Gaza conflict, Burns holds a prominent role, given Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reliance on Mossad chief David Barnea. Barnea is authorized to speak on behalf of the prime minister, making him a crucial figure in negotiations. While Burns engages with Barnea, Israeli Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who lack Netanyahu’s trust, are considered less influential.

The channel between Burns and Barnea was previously utilized in discussions held in Qatar on November 9, where they explored the outlines of a hostage release and a pause in fighting with Qatar’s prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani. The subsequent announcement of four-hour pauses in northern Gaza by Israel fell short of U.S. requests for multiday pauses.

Qatar, known for mediating talks between Israel and Hamas, continues to play a pivotal role in these negotiations. U.S. officials are pushing for an extended period without hostilities to facilitate hostage releases and humanitarian aid into Gaza. Israeli officials have indicated a willingness to allow up to 10 additional days before considering a resumption of military operations.

The ongoing hostage negotiations, marked by periodic releases, aim to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. However, concerns persist about the ability to sustain aid deliveries if Hamas and Israel fail to negotiate a continuation. Burns, during his visit to Qatar, is exploring mechanisms outside the hostage negotiations framework to ensure a consistent flow of aid, as security and logistical challenges currently limit aid deliveries.

As the Israel-Gaza conflict unfolds, Burns’s efforts underscore the complexity of diplomatic maneuvers and negotiations required to navigate a path towards peace and stability in the region.

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