The aspersions cast by US media on Saudi Intelligence Director Prince Bandar Bin Sultan’s competence were designed to put him off his stroke in his campaign to contest the Obama administration and its agenda.
They denigrate him variously as seriously misguided for relying on Russia and China to step into America’s shoes as the oil kingdom’s chief arms supplier and protector of the royal family.
They depict him as lacking the trust of King Abdullah and assert that his schemes for obstructing Washington on the Syrian and Iranian questions are doomed to fade into nothing in the long run.
Some US analysts even say Bandar “must have gone clinically insane. Either that or it is the entire House of Saudi has gone mad – maybe as a consequence of its degenerate lifestyle. Who knows?”
Prince Bandar, who is well up on American thinking and Washington politics from his 23 years as ambassador there (1983-2005), is unfazed by these insults.
He is sticking to his guns and has opened three new fronts – not against the United States, but against the President Barack Obama and his policies.
Strikes against Obama in three sensitive arenas
Contrary to media insinuations, he is fully supported by the monarch and submits all his actions to the king and Crown Prince Salman, who is also defense minister, for approval.
(See exclusive DEBKA Weekly report in issue 604 of Sept. 27: The First Break with Convention – A Saudi Quartet Pursues Pro-active Policy against Obama).
Our Gulf sources reaffirm that Bandar obtained King Abdullah’s blessing for each of his plans of action. They were further endorsed by the king’s personal secretary, the influential President of the Royal Court Khalid al-Tuwaijri, whose position is equivalent to prime minister.
The Saudi intelligence chief has rolled out three major fronts for stymieing Obama administration plans – for Iran – initially via Pakistani Baluchistan – Egypt and Taliban.
The Baluchi Army of Justice, which claimed responsibility for the Oct. 25 ambush which killed 19 Iranian soldiers on the Pakistan-Iran border, is a new terrorist organization which Saudi intelligence has established, armed and trained, DEBKA Weekly reveals.
Most of the soldiers killed were conscripts from Seravan, a town in the Sistan-Balochistan province on the Iranian side of the border with Pakistan.
The Saudis set up the Baluchi Army of Justice to strike military targets inside Iran. It was the first – but not likely the last – such group that Bandar is expected by our intelligence sources to build for stirring up anti-regime unrest among the many minorities making up Iranian society.
Saudi-Iranian terror war may upset US-Iran nuclear agenda
Tehran reacted swiftly by ordering 16 prison inmates hanged on the day of the ambush. Eight of the condemned men were members of Jundullah, a Pakistani Sunni Baluchi organization that was responsible for past terrorist attacks on civilians, as well assassinations and kidnappings.
Ironically, Iran’s Basij militia leaders blamed the US and Israel for orchestrating the Baluchi attack.
Tehran carefully abstained from directly accusing Riyadh. But an Iranian reprisal is to be expected against Saudi Arabia or one of its Gulf allies, and its handling has been assigned to an expert, Gen. Qassem Soleimeni, the Al Qods Brigades chief, who is in charge of the Iranian military forces deployed in the Middle East, including those fighting for Bashar Assad in Syria.
A war of terror has therefore been declared between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is likely to intensify. This will complicate President Obama’s bid for a nuclear accord and détente with Iran, no less than would an Israeli military strike on its nuclear sites.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources, the Saudi prince is working hand in glove with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his effort to inflame the Iranian Baluchistan province.
Widening the Cairo-Washington rift
Sharif was in Washington just this week and met President Obama.
In this context, it may be recalled that the Saudi royal family and intelligence have long been closely associated with Taliban leaders of both the Afghan and the Pakistani movements.
So for Obama to get on the same page with the Pakistani prime minister for the sake of a smooth US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan next year may not suffice. Saudi elements may goad Taliban at some point to disrupt the process.
Bandar started working on his scheme to downgrade Egypt’s relations with the Obama administration in July with a visit to Moscow and a long talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin. His three-month effort culminated on Oct. 28 in the arrival in Cairo of the Russian deputy chief of staff and intelligence director, Lt. Gen. Vyacheslav Kondrashov, at the head of a large military delegation.
He first approached the Russian president with a three-stepped plan in mind:
1. To draw both Saudi Arabia and the most populous Arab country (Egypt: 85 million) out of the American orbit.
2. Bandar helped restore the Egyptian military to power after the generals pledged to wage an uncompromising war on the Muslim Brotherhood. This movement, he is determined to diminish in all parts of the Middle East – not just as a rival – but because it was favored by the Obama administration as a moderate Muslim force with whom the West could do business.
The Saudi prince viewed the Egyptian military as the right instrument for reducing the Brotherhood to an inconsequential player.
3. Aware that the Obama administration was likely to cut off arms and military equipment to any Arab regime persecuting the Brotherhood, Bandar prepared a substitute. He opened the door for a Russian comeback to Egypt as a military and intelligence provider – 41 years after the Soviet Union was expelled from the country in 1972.
Tuesday Oct. 29, debkafile headlined exclusive revelations about negotiations for a major arms deal, with Egypt bidding for the advanced hardware items withheld by Washington, thereby bring one aspect of Bandar’s plan full circle.
Russia seeks a naval base at an Egyptian port
The Egyptian wish list is topped by intermediate-range surface-to-surface ballistic missiles able to reach targets across the Middle East.
Gen. Kondrashov produced a list of his own. His led off with a request for a Russian naval base on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, DEBKA Weekly’s exclusive military sources report. The Russian general pointed to four suitable locations:
– Alexandria. The use of some sort of dock or berth in the big port of Alexandria and a group of port warehouses, to be developed into naval facilities like the ones Russia built in the Syrian port of Tartus. The visiting generals did not say the Egyptian facility was needed instead of Tartus, but they raised the question with enough urgency to suggest that an alternative base on the Mediterranean to the Syrian port would be welcome in case the Russians were forced to move out of Syria in a hurry. In any case, Tartus has only been partly operational in recent months.
– Damietta. This port is located on the western tributary of the Nile, 15 km from the Mediterranean Sea, and 70 km from Port Said. Its port installations cover an area of 11.8 sq. km.
– Port Said, which lies in northeast Egypt, extends about 30 km along the Mediterranean coast, north of the Suez Canal.
– Rosetta (Rasid) is located in the Nile Delta, 65 km (40 mi) east of Alexandria.
Our military sources say that a naval base at any of these four ports will give Russia a foothold on a central Mediterranean shore. It would make Moscow the only superpower with a naval and military presence positioned for control of the vastly important Suez Canal waterway, which is the principle marine link connecting US naval and military forces in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf.
It was this position of vantage which Prince Bandar offered President Putin.