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Bennett meets CIA chief Burns to discuss Iran, increased Israel-US cooperation

Prime minister, top security officials sit down with visiting US spy chief amid growing regional tensions involving Tehran

CIA chief William Burns, left, meets with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem, August 11, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershon/GPO)
CIA chief William Burns, left, meets with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem, August 11, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershon/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Wednesday with visiting CIA chief William Burns for talks on the situation in the Middle East and specifically Iran, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

The two discussed ways to broaden and deepen cooperation between Israel and the US in the region, the statement said.

They were joined in the meeting by the head of the Mossad spy agency David Barnea, the incoming head of the National Security Council Eyal Hulata, the prime minister’s military secretary Maj. Gen. Avi Gil, and Bennett’s diplomatic adviser Shimrit Meir.

Barnea and Burns met Tuesday night to discuss the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and other matters on which the CIA and Mossad plan to cooperate in the region, the statement said.

During the earlier meeting with Barnea, Burns was presented with information intended to show Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi as mentally disturbed, untrustworthy and incapable of negotiating a new nuclear deal or sticking to his commitments, Channel 12 news reported on Tuesday.

According to the network, Barnea gave Burns a dossier on Raisi that portrayed him as exceptionally extreme, cruel, corrupt and unstable.

“The Mossad described him as someone with mental disturbances,” the channel claimed in the unsourced report.

Raisi, a hardline former judiciary head who was Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s choice for the role, has been accused of ordering the execution of thousands of prisoners toward the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.

Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during his swearing in ceremony at the Iranian parliament in the capital Tehran on August 5, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

He took office last week, taking over from Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who agreed to a landmark deal in 2015 that curbed Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

Burns, a career diplomat, played a key role in the US rapprochement with Iran that led to the deal between Iran and major powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

US President Joe Biden has sought to rejoin the pact after former president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018. Israel opposes the deal and government officials have held successive rounds of talks with US counterparts on the nuclear negotiations.

European Union-sponsored talks in Vienna are aimed at reviving the JCPOA but the last round took place on June 20, with no date set for when they would resume and Western officials estimating that with Raisi in power, the chances of clinching a deal have dwindled significantly.

The visit by Burns comes amid what analysts have called a “shadow war” that has seen a spate of attacks on facilities in Iran and maritime vessels linked to Israel.

Last month, the MT Mercer Street, an oil products tanker operated by an Israeli-owned firm, was struck by a drone off the Omani coast, killing two crew members — a Briton and a Romanian.

G7 foreign ministers on Friday pointed the finger of blame for the attack at Iran, as the US military released the findings of an investigation alleging the drones were made in the Islamic republic.

Iran dismissed the allegations.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday said Iran was “the greatest threat to peace in the region.”

“We call on the international community to act to stop Iranian aggression,” Gantz said.

Burns was also expected to travel to Ramallah for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a Palestinian official said Tuesday.

The Walla news website said he would also meet the PA’s intelligence chief Majed Faraj there.

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