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Middle East

Saudi spy chief Prince Bandar steps down from post

File - Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan seen at his palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

RIYADH: Saudi Arabian intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the architect of Riyadh’s attempts to bring down Syrian President Bashar Assad, has resigned from his post, state media reported Tuesday.

His departure, months after he was quoted warning of a “major shift” from the United States over its Middle East policy, may help to smooth relations with Washington as Riyadh pushes for increased U.S. support for Syrian rebels.

Prince Bandar, who has recently spent time in the United States and Morocco for medical treatment, was replaced on an interim basis by a deputy.

“Prince Bandar was relieved of his post at his own request and General Youssef al-Idrissi was asked to carry out the duties of the head of general intelligence,” state news agency SPA said, citing a royal decree.

The decree did not say if Prince Bandar would continue in his other position as head of the National Security Council.

A former ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar was appointed intelligence chief in July 2012, and was in charge of helping Syrian rebels topple Assad, an ally of Riyadh’s biggest regional rival, Iran.

He was also closely involved in Saudi support for Egypt’s military rulers after they ousted Islamist president Mohammad Morsi last year, Gulf diplomatic sources said.

Despite his longstanding connections in Washington and personal relations with world leaders stretching back decades, Prince Bandar proved a sometimes abrasive figure in his efforts to corral Western support for Syrian rebels.

Western officials have said in private that his comment in October about a “major shift” from the U.S. following President Barack Obama’s decision not to use military strikes against Assad had complicated cooperation on Syria.A trip to Moscow last year to push President Vladimir Putin to abandon his support for Assad also failed to produce results.

“He had been more or less disengaged from the Syrian file for the past five months. The responsibility was divided between ... officers in the intelligence sphere and other princes. So the reality is that any changes have already happened,” said Mustafa Alani, a security expert with close ties to Riyadh.

Saudi support for the rebels, including arms, training and financing, has been hampered by infighting between opposition groups and difficulties in working out which of them pursued ideologies that could endanger Riyadh.

Earlier this year, Riyadh recalibrated its Syria policy to focus on preventing militant groups there from posing a later threat to the kingdom, a policy championed by Interior Minister Prince Mohammad bin Nayef.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 16, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Saudi Arabian intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the architect of Riyadh's attempts to bring down Syrian President Bashar Assad, has resigned from his post, state media reported Tuesday.

A former ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar was appointed intelligence chief in July 2012, and was in charge of helping Syrian rebels topple Assad, an ally of Riyadh's biggest regional rival, Iran.

He was also closely involved in Saudi support for Egypt's military rulers after they ousted Islamist president Mohammad Morsi last year, Gulf diplomatic sources said.

Despite his longstanding connections in Washington and personal relations with world leaders stretching back decades, Prince Bandar proved a sometimes abrasive figure in his efforts to corral Western support for Syrian rebels.


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