Hot and Cold Running Bandar

Yesterday, just weeks after the time Al Arabiya announced Prince Bandar bin Sultan would resume his duties as head of Saudi intelligence (and therefore the mastermind of the Saudi-backed effort to oust Bashar al-Assad), Bandar was replaced by a little-known deputy.

He had resumed his position in March, just two days before the President visited the Kingdom.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan is on his way back to Riyadh where he will resume his tasks as head of Saudi Intelligence,reported news portal NOW Lebanon.

An informed Saudi source confirmed the report to Al Arabiya News.

“This is without doubt bad news for Tehran, Damascus and Hezbollah, particularly that anti-Saudi media has been propagating false information for the past two months that Prince Bandar’s absence has been due to his dismissal and due to a Saudi decision to back away from its policies regarding the regional conflict,” said the source in Riyadh.

The source confirms that Prince Bandar has actually been away due to medical reasons, however, he has resumed his activities this week from the Moroccan city of Marrakesh; where he has been recovering and where he has met with former Lebanese PM Saad Hariri and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed.

But today he’s out.

Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan has been relieved of his post at his request, the official Saudi Press Agency reported Tuesday.

The royal decree announcing that Prince Bandar was stepping down as president of General Intelligence gave no reasons for the move. He has been replaced by General Yousef Al Idrissi, the decree said.

I’m not sure anyone knows what these tea leaves mean. It may be that the “shoulder” injury Bandar had been treated for remains a serious health issue. It may be that — as one piece suggested — he retains some power here and has not ceded it back to Mohammed bin Nayef, who had taken over before Bandar’s return in March. It may be that this and King Abdullah’s designation of Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as second in succession were done to time with Obama’s visit, to signal that America’s more favored successor, Mohammed bin Nayef, was not going to take over any time soon.

But it also comes among two other developments that may be related. First, since about the beginning of the year and increasingly in recent weeks, the Saudis are actually cracking down on terrorism, both real — including those who went to fight in Syria — and imagined. Perhaps the former, too, was a show for the US. But it did seem to reflect some concerns that Saudi efforts in Syria were increasing security concerns for the Kingdom (as well as other countries in the region and not).

Perhaps most interesting, however, is that the same day that Bandar got “sacked” videos started showing opposition figures in Syria with US made anti-tank missiles, which is the kind of thing Bandar has decades of experience arranging. We’ll see whether those disappear like Bandar or represent a new escalation of efforts to oust Assad.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

11 replies
  1. scribe says:

    Or perhaps Bandar was fired for losing the war in Syria; German media last week was stating that it was clear Assad had won and it was all over but for the shouting.

    Or, in this instance, the firings.

  2. TarheelDem says:

    One thing the reversals mean is that the succession crisis in the royal family is not yet settled.

    Yes, it is good to watch to see whether the US has finally realized that for the moment the most prudent policy is to allow Assad to regain control in Syria so that the Saudi-Qatari-US sponsored foreign fighters can be suppressed.

    This is interesting in light of Ukraine getting branded with John Brennan’s name. The public case is being built for Brennan’s departure as a failed CIA director who sponsors torture and failed interventions and is much too close to the Saudis (or at least Bandar). Wonder if Petraeus participates in the ensuing pile-on.

    • bloopie2 says:

      Does anyone have a list/chart of US foreign intervention successes? We can all name a bunch of failures off the top of our heads – Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. But certainly there have been some successes, no? Enough so that one should not automatically say “Stay the hell out of there both even covertly”, allowing for some covert action or coercion or democratization or whatever (but not military). Seems like every power (or would-be power) does that – this post is about the Saudis doing it, for example. (Of course, how one defines :success” may be key here – success for whom, for example.)

      • Concerned reader says:

        @bloopie2, is an attempt at a comprehensive list, but doesn’t categorize in terms of success/failure. It does, however, provide a brief indication of intent and outcome, which is perhaps more useful, as sometimes success is difficult to gauge; for example:

        IRAQ 1963 Command operation CIA organizes coup that killed president, brings Ba’ath Party to power, and Saddam Hussein back from exile to be head of the secret service.

        CAMBODIA l969-75 Bombing, troops, naval Up to 2 million killed in decade of bombing, starvation, and political chaos.

        Success or failure? You decide!

  3. b says:

    My hunch is that Badar was never “back”. There was a campaign in certain (Bandar paid) papers saying that he was but never an official confirmation.

    He tried to come back and has now been told in no uncertain ways that he is fired for good.

  4. RUKidding says:

    Bandar watching is interesting. Bandar seems like a cat with nine lives. Something is going on, and someone is out to oust Bandar. But like a lot of spooky types, one can never say for sure that Bandar is gone for good. Time will tell.

  5. b says:

    @E.w. – Bandar (via Hariri) owns “Lebanon Now” which was the original source claiming “Bandar is back!”, then repeated elsewhere.

    I never found that plausible. He was kicked out (on order from the U.S.?) and the Saudis are now looking for ways to make nice with Assad (while keeping pressure on him to have some negotiating space).

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