CIA’s favorite Saudi prince is laying the groundwork for a post-Assad Syria

King Abdullah names Prince Bandar, director general of the Saudi Intelligence Agency, on top of his post as secretary-general of the National Security Council.

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar bin Sultan fell in love with the United States when he was still an air force pilot and took aerobatics training on an American air base. The romance was renewed several years later when he was named the Saudi ambassador to Washington, a tenure that lasted 22 years. He was a regular guest of George H.W. Bush and later his son, and was the only ambassador guarded by the U.S. Secret Service.

Last week, King Abdullah named Bandar, 62, director general of the Saudi Intelligence Agency, on top of his post as secretary-general of the National Security Council, which he has held since 2005.

Bandar’s appointment to the Saudis’ most important security post is no coincidence. For one thing, he’s very well connected to the kingdom’s leaders. His wife Haifa was the daughter of King Faisal, who was assassinated in 1975. Her brother Turki al-Faisal once headed Saudi intelligence, and another brother, Mohammed al-Faisal, is one of the kingdom’s richest men.

But it seems the main reason for his appointment now is that Saudi Arabia is preparing for the next stage in Syria, after President Bashar Assad leaves the political stage one way or another and Syria becomes a battleground for influence.

An intense campaign is under way over this inheritance, with the United States, European Union and Russia taking part. But the ramifications of Assad’s fall on Iran and Hezbollah – and Iraq – are more important. And when Egypt is hobbling in its effort to establish its “Second Republic” and the Arab League is paralyzed, Saudi Arabia is left to draw up the Middle East’s new map.

The view from D.C.

From Washington’s perspective, Bandar’s appointment is important news. Sure, his wife was investigated by Congress a decade ago about her connections to Al-Qaida activists. But Bandar is considered the CIA’s man in Riyadh. He’s not just a rugby fan and man-about-town – he’s known as a can-do person who makes quick decisions and doesn’t spare resources to achieve his objectives.

From Bahrain to Tahrir Square

When the revolutions broke out, Bandar supported sending troops to the small kingdom of Bahrain next door to quell the Shi’ite revolt, which Saudi Arabia perceived as Iranian intervention in the Gulf states’ affairs. Saudi Arabia also moved fast to support the new regime in Cairo, depositing more than $3 billion as a guarantee at the Egyptian central bank.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi knows well that this aid doesn’t stem from Saudi Arabia’s great love for the Tahrir revolution, let alone for the Muslim Brotherhood. But it’s meant to block Iranian efforts to gain a foothold in Egypt. As a result, when Morsi was invited to Tehran for a conference of nonaligned nations, he stopped first in Riyadh so as not to give Iran the satisfaction of being the new Egyptian president’s first host.

The Saudi policy on Syria is being closely coordinated with the United States; both countries (like Israel ) want to separate Iran from its most important Arab base and slow the weapons flow to Hezbollah. These goals haven’t eluded Iranian eyes, so Tehran is strengthening its position in Iraq and the Kurdish zone of northern Iraq. Moreover, according to reports from the Syrian opposition, Iran is making clandestine contacts with rebel representatives in Europe.

There’s no way to know what Syria will look like after Assad, or which rebel faction it pays to invest in. Saudi Arabia, as is its wont, is investing in them all. Hopefully the United States will get the payoff.

Full article: CIA’s favorite Saudi prince is laying the groundwork for a post-Assad Syria (Haaretz)

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