One key American official is quietly keeping Washington’s lines of communication open across the Middle East as the U.S. and Israel endure their worst falling-out in decades over the war in Gaza.

CIA Director William Burns, a veteran diplomat and Arabic speaker, was in Cairo alongside Qatari and Egyptian mediators this week as U.S. President Joe Biden set off a political firestorm by halting the shipment of about 3,500 bombs to Israel. The White House is increasingly concerned about massive civilian casualties if Israel launches a ground offensive on Rafah, the southern Gaza city where 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering from the war.

Biden’s priority is winning a deal to release more of the hostages Hamas took in its deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel. And it’s fallen to the U.S. intelligence chief to balance Biden’s carrots-and-sticks approach as Washington struggles to keep the seven-month-old war from escalating further.