Disquiet in Washington, Jerusalem and a row of Middle East capitals is gaining ground the longer the Saudi government stays silent on the reports of the assassination of the newly-appointed Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, purportedly in a revenge operation by a Syrian intelligence death squad. If true, it would shoot a devastating tentacle out from the Syrian conflict to the broader region.
It is widely feared that Saudi rulers are too traumatized to respond by the fear of Iranian penetration of the highest and most closely guarded circles of Saudi government, possibly climaxing in Bandar’s assassination.
The unconfirmed reports of his death attribute its motive to revenge by Iran and Syria for the bomb explosion five days earlier in Damascus which killed four of Bashar Assad’s top managers of his war on the uprising against his regime.
The prince, son of the late crown prince Sultan, has not been seen in public since Saudi General Intelligence headquarters in Riyadh was hit by a bomb blast Monday, July 23 killing his deputy, Mashaal al-Qarni.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly 550 of Friday, July 26, was the first world publication to report this attack, in the face of a massive official blackout, from its exclusive intelligence sources.
Now as then, debkafile’s sources have obtained no confirmation that Prince Bandar was injured or killed in that attack. King Abdullah made him Director of Saudi Intelligence on July 19, just a day after the Damascus bombing. But our sources doubt whether a Syrian intelligence squad would be capable of reaching deep inside Riyadh. They therefore postulate that the deed was committed or orchestrated by a clandestine Iranian agency.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
In 2003 and 2004, Iran initiated a wave of bombing attacks inside the Saudi kingdom carried out by Al Qaeda, supplying its terror squads with intelligence, explosives and money. Al Qaeda experts ran those operations. One of them, Saif al-Adal, was later freed by Iran and is now based in Pakistan.
Iran’s terror masters may have gone back to their tested stratagem of hiring Al Qaeda terrorists for an insider job against the Saudi regime.
For Tehran, all means are justified for the preservation of their foremost Arab ally, Syrian ruler Bashar Assad, in power. Furthermore, Iran’s ability to strike deep into the heart of the Saudi capital is meant to serve as a timely object lesson for their Middle East enemies that Iran’s arm is long enough to reach inside any of their capitals.
The attack on Riyadh therefore throws a new perspective on the military calculations actuating the “Arab Spring” and governing US and Israel plans to strike Iran’s nuclear program in the very near future. In the same way, the Damascus bombing of July 18 dragged the Syrian civil war outside its borders to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Iran.
The unconfirmed report claiming Prince Bandar was critically injured and his doctors had lost the fight to save him, spilling out since Sunday July 29, has gained wide resonance – not because it was verified but because of its momentous strategic significance. Corroboration is still lacking. debkafile reports that Washington too is groping the dark and has turned to its many Middle East intelligence contacts for a glimmer of light on what has happened to the key Saudi figure – so far without success.
It looks as though the enigma will be solved one way or another only after an authoritative account or an official statement is forthcoming from the Saudi government or if the missing prince appears in public. The absence of any word from the Saudi government increases the trepidation in Washington and among concerned parties in the Middle East.