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Israel’s Shin Bet chief meets CIA director for talks on Palestinians, Iran

Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar met in Washington with CIA chief William Burns over mutual concerns for the stability of the Palestinian Authority.

Shin Bet head Ronen Bar met on Thursday in Washington with CIA Chief William Burns amid growing concerns in the Biden administration over the weakening of the Palestinian Authority and growing tensions in the West Bank.

Israeli outlet Haaretz  and Axios reported that Bar arrived in the US capital on Thursday, was set to meet with senior officials at the White House, the State Department and the CIA to discuss both the Palestinian and the Iranian files. The Shin Bet is Israel's powerful internal security service and a strong arm of country's intelligence apparatus. 

Senior American officials including the CIA chief have recently expressed concerns over the destabilization of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.

Last February, in an interview a few days after traveling to the West Bank, Burns expressed fears of a third Palestinian uprising. “I was a senior US diplomat 20 years ago during the second intifada, and I’m concerned — as are my colleagues in the intelligence community — that a lot of what we’re seeing today has a very unhappy resemblance to some of those realities that we saw then too,” said Burns, adding that his talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders sparked his concerns about "more vulnerability and greater violence" between the two sides.

Last March, ahead of the month of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, American, Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli senior officials gathered for a second meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh in Egypt to discuss a mechanism for curbing violence and friction in the West Bank. Over the past few weeks, reports have suggested that a third such meeting will convene.

Israeli security experts are concerned over the growing number of rogue militant organizations that operate on their own, such as the Lion’s Den, which has been very active in the West Bank city of Jenin since the beginning of the year. In addition, the popularity of Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas has seriously declined in recent years, and it is unclear who will take over his position if and when he retires or can no longer serve in office.

Another concerning element is the suspension of the World Food Programme aid to over 200,000 Palestinians living in Gaza due to severe shortage of funds. Haaretz reported this week that Gaza-Based Hamas and the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership are both pressuring donor countries, especially in the Gulf, to support the program more. According to the report, the Palestinian Authority is also in contact with the Biden administration and the UN to preserve the aid for needy people in Gaza.

Israel has been careful not to openly comment on the Gaza aid crisis, but did send senior officials to a meeting at the beginning of May in Brussels of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which is coordinating international efforts to help West Bank and Gaza Palestinians and their economies. Israel’s Defense Ministry sent Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories Rassan Alian and the Foreign Ministry sent the head of its Middle East and Peace Process Division, Oded Joseph. 

Two other senior Israeli officials were in Washington during Bar’s visit. Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi met on Thursday with US national security adviser Jake Sullivan in the White House ostensibly to discuss Iran. A readout from the White House after the meeting said among other things that "Sullivan also stressed the need to take additional steps to improve the lives of Palestinians, critical to realizing a more peaceful, prosperous, and integrated region."

Israel has upped its concerns over Iran's nuclear program, as security chiefs have become especially worried recently, not only over Iran’s moves to enrich uranium, but also on Tehran's rapidly growing capabilities to launch a military nuclear attack. 

Contacted by Al-Monitor, Israeli defense ministry and the CIA were not immediately available for comment. 

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