The live wire of the Saudi royal house’s drive against President Barack Obama’s détente with Tehran has been dropped. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s National Security Adviser and Intelligence Director, has not been seen for more than a month. He was reported by debkafile’s US and Saudi sources Wednesday, Feb. 19, to have been removed from the tight policy-making circle in Riyadh.
For Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu, this counts significantly as the loss of the only other Middle East leader ready to publicly decry President Obama’s policies on Iran and Syria as promoting the negative forces in the region and damaging to America’s own interests.
As recently as Tuesday, Netanyahu declared: “I would like to tell the world today that Iran has changed neither its aggressive policy nor its brutal character... Iran continues to support the Assad regime which is slaughtering its own people.”
Prince Bandar was widely reported in the Middle East to be in secret ties with Israeli intelligence on Saudi and Israeli moves against Iran. Tehran claimed more than once that he had paid clandestine visits to Tel Aviv. Those ties, such as they were, may be presumed to have been discontinued following his removal.
There has been no official word from Riyadh disclosing any change in Bandar’s status. Our sources report that the prince, a long-serving ambassador to the United States, vanished off Saudi and Middle East radar screens in mid-January, shortly before he was scheduled to visit Washington to arrange President Obama’s forthcoming trip to Riyadh in the last week of March.
Bandar never arrived in Washington and no one in Riyadh was ready to answer questions about his whereabouts. US sources were more forthcoming - although less complimentary. In some reports he was dismissed as “hotheaded” or “erratic.”
The Saudi intelligence chief crossed the Americans by supplying weapons and money to Syrian rebels belonging to Islamist militias – though not al Qaeda. He was the driving force behind the formation of the Islamic Front coalition, which last month beat the Free Syrian Army backed by Washington into the ground.
Some Gulf sources say he is paying the price for the kingdom’s failure in Syria. Bandar promised King Abdullah thatg he would take care of getting rid of Bashar Assad. He not only fell down on this task, but he generated a clash between the Obama administration and the Saudi throne on the Syrian issue, say those sources.
The most striking evidence of his comedown came from his absence from the secret conclave held recently by Middle East intelligence chiefs to coordinate their positions on Syrian with Washington.
Instead of Prince Bandar, his seat was taken by his leading adversary on Syria, the Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
Prince Mohammed is a favorite at the White House and a close friend of Secretary of State John Kerry and CIA Director John Brennan.
The Saudi interior minister, by taking Bandar’s place at this important forum, may also be stepping into his shoes as intelligence chief – albeit without the formality of an official notice from Riyadh.