September 5, 2013

Bandar Bin Sultan and the House of Saud’s Hand in Syria

Saudi Arabia has been quietly involved in the Syrian civil war since its beginning.  The Saudis found Hafez al-Assad to be a reasonable man to work with (which is an interesting comment on Saudi Arabia, given that Hafez was a Baathist who ordered the massacre of the entire city of Hama to put down a rebellion), but find his son Bashar to be too inconsistent.

Reportedly, the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, for the Saudis, was the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri by Hezbollah in 2005.  The Saudis had sponsored Hariri, and with Hezbollah being a close partner with Damascus, Bashar al-Assad and his allies were seen as responsible.  Given that Lebanese security was a Syrian responsibility under the Taif Accords of 1989, that also pointed to Assad being at least complicit in the assassination.  As such, early on the Saudis began to support the Free Syrian Army.

The Saudis have a history of keeping a low profile in their international affairs, often acting in partnership with the United States, especially since the 1st Gulf War in 1991.  Most of the royal family are fairly passive, perhaps because of a plethora of health problems.  At first, Saudi support to the FSA largely consisted of sending funds through Qatar, with whom the Saudis had an agreement.  The Qataris did most of the heavy lifting as far as logistics and getting weapons into Syria for the FSA.

The primary focus of Saudi Arabia’s defense is Iran.  From the Britam emails (the legitimate ones, not the fakes inserted to try to implicate Britam and the Saudis in chemical weapons smuggling into Syria), it quickly becomes clear that the focus of the Saudi Armed Forces’ training is a war with Iran.  While Al Arabiya dismisses the Sunni-Shia conflict as the cause, citing instead an Arab-Persian rivalry for regional domination, the sectarian differences cannot be denied.  While the Saudi royal family may be hedonistic and somewhat Westernized, they are entirely aware of the fact that they rule over a country with the majority of its citizens being Wahhabi Sunnis.  The House of Saud has to tread a careful line between the West and their own people in order to stay in power.

In recent months, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a member of the royal family, ambassador to the United States, and head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service, has become more and more involved in Syria.  As the Assad regime’s offensives in Qusayr and Homs began to make the civil war look impossible to the rebels’ backers, Bandar effectively told the Qataris to take a back seat, as he took a more forward position.

Syria is not Bandar bin Sultan’s first military adventure.  In 2006, he got 0ver $200 million from the House of Saud to bankroll and train a paramilitary force for Saad Hariri.  The force was utterly defeated in less than 20 hours of combat, but bin Sultan hasn’t given up.

In addition to now coordinating FSA units and weapons shipments through Jordan and Turkey, bin Sultan earlier traveled to Moscow to offer economic and oil concessions if Russia ceased its support for Assad.  Bin Sultan admitted to supporting and supposedly controlling Chechen terrorists–according to Al Akhbar, Bin Sultan was effectively negotiating as “Prince of the Mujahideen”–even offering to ensure the security of the Winter Games in Sochi by keeping the Chechens away.  His overtures were rejected by President Putin.

Bin Sultan has complained publicly about how many of the weapons he has brought into Syria have ended up in Al Qaeda’s hands.  Given his admission of controlling the Jaysh al Muhajireen wal-Ansar, these complaints smack more of political posturing for the sake of the West than anything else.

Bin Sultan’s stated goals are to see breakthroughs in Aleppo in the north, as well as convincing the Jordanians to allow fighters across the border into Daraa and the Golan.  Reportedly, he wants to see the balance of power shifted enough for the Saudis to reach a political solution with Russia over Syria’s future, leaving Bashar al-Assad out of it.

In recent days, a report has arisen out of the Ghouta area of Damascus, claiming that the chemical weapons that killed over 300 people were in fact in the possession of the rebels, supplied by Bandar bin Sultan, and had in fact been mishandled due to a lack of training, resulting in the exposure and deaths.  The report has only come from an AP-affiliated reporter named Dale Gavlak, and was not picked up by AP, but was rather printed by MintPressNews.  So far it is a single-source report (read-rumor), and as such should be taken with a large grain of salt until some corroborating reporting comes up.

(Featured Image Courtesy: Alalam)

About the Author

is a former Reconnaissance Marine and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He deployed to Iraq in 2005-2006, and again in 2007, with 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Recon Bn. After two years of schools and workups, including Scout/Sniper Basic and Team Leader's Courses, he deployed to Afghanistan with 4th Platoon, Force Reconnaissance Company, I MEF. He is now a tactical tracking instructor and the author of the military thrillers Task Force Desperate and Hunting in the Shadows.

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  • JHR

    Recon6 JHR ArcticWarrior The sun, Moon and stars revolve around my uncles.They raised me. Not one, ever talked about what they went through. Although one gave me vietnamese language lessons. Another-Navy-has started opening up a little. He always told us he was a "line cook" on a carrier. not true:-) Now he gives me advice when my father is unavailable on all matters work.

  • Recon6

    JHR Recon6 ArcticWarrior  I figured your memory had something to do with a relative involved in some manner J  :)  You are aware of my situation back then so no biggie. And I bet you can "get away with it", lol with your background !! The part about your uncle must have sucked tho...glad he recovered with your assistance....6

  • JHR

    Old PH2 PH- Interesting in the past 3-4 weeks that specops in Russia and mil have been privately making jokes about Putin. Humorous about his sexuality. Not over the top or degrading, but such murmurs may be a signal of dissent. Like, whats our crazy fool doing now? JMO

  • JHR

    Recon6  ArcticWarrior  I was pretty darned young then. Always blessed with the long straight hair-but I can get away with it bro:-) Memories of '68, as a child, sitting by my uncles bed as he recovered from getting his throat slit from ear to ear in Viet Nam. He was a Linguist/Army. Also, another uncle coming bck from an op in Korea-running through the airport to find 4 different uncles coming back from different areas of the world-Army-Navy.

  • JHR

    YankeePapa JHR From a young age I've sat in a room where "stuff has gone down". Then, I've listened to the reporting of that "stuff" on TV-MSM. It rarely if ever matches the real deal. What the American People hear is as much of a propaganda spin as other Countries we despise for such tactics.