On April 15, 2014, the Saudi King Abdullah relieved Prince Bandar bin Sultan, previously Ambassador to the United States, and for the last two years the head of Saudi intelligence, of his posting. According to Saudi news sources, this was by his own request, and Bin Sultan’s recent health problems (he’s 65 years old and recently underwent shoulder surgery in the United States) might lend some credence to this statement.
There are some sources, however, questioning just how “by his request” this action really was. Bin Sultan has been a major player (it might even be argued the major player) in seeking the ouster of Bashar al Assad in Syria. While he has complained about how much of his aid ends up in the hands of Al Qaeda, some of his other statements and actions shed some doubt on his sincerity, especially when he effectively threatened the security of the Olympic Games in Sochi if the Russians didn’t pull their support for Assad. He has also been one of the loudest Saudi voices criticizing the US for not openly seeking Assad’s ouster through lending air support and more heavy weapons to the rebels. Bin Sultan has been a central figure in the deterioration of US-Saudi relations in the last year, as he has complained bitterly about the lack of US action in Syria.
It is conceivably possible that Bin Sultan was instructed to step down by King Abdullah as an attempt to repair US-Saudi relations. Haaretz has gone so far as to report that sources inside Saudi Arabia say that President Obama requested Bin Sultan’s relief. How accurate this is is open to question; the Saudi Royal family hasn’t been exactly thrilled with the Obama Administration’s Middle East policy, going back to the unabashed embrace of the “Arab Spring” in Egypt in 2011, that resulted in the Muslim Brotherhood taking over the country.
Prince Bandar has been replaced by his deputy, General Youssef Al Idrissi. There is very little to be found online about Al Idrissi, and how exactly this change is going to affect the Saudi course of action in Syria and regards to the US remains to be seen.
Photo courtesy AFP