Saudi Prince Bandar, who was recently named the head of Saudi intelligence, forged close ties with U.S. officials during his 22 years as the Saudi ambassador in Washington. In this photo, Prince Bandar talks with former President George W. Bush at Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, August 27, 2002.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a former ambassador to the United States, was recently named the new chief of Saudi intelligence, thrusting him into a position of broad authority where he can strongly influence his country’s ties to the United States and its approach to regional problems. Bandar has spent a career working at the highest levels of the Saudi government developing myriad contacts while often operating behind the scenes, attributes that will enhance the effectiveness of Saudi Arabian intelligence.
Bandar’s appointment comes at a time when Saudi interests are being challenged on a number of fronts, ranging from Iran’s nuclear ambitions to the civil war in Syria that is displacing thousands of Sunni Muslims.His portfolio will immerse him in these issues, but Bandar’s greatest value to Saudi King Abdullah may be his skill in carrying out secret missions on the kingdom’s behalf which he has done often in his career.
In late July, the Saudi Arabian government announced that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who served for 22 years as the Saudi ambassador to the United States, will head the Saudi intelligence service. No reason was given by the Saudi government for the sudden removal of the low-profile Prince Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz from the top intelligence post, one of Saudi Arabia’s most important and sensitive positions, but there have been persistent rumors that Muqrin’s often absentee style of management angered King Abdullah. Bandar has been out of the spotlight in recent years but remains widely regarded as one of the kingdom’s most astute and widely respected senior statesmen. His biographer, David Ottoway, describes Bandar, age 63, as “the leading hawk in the House of Saud.”
LIGNET has learned from a British source with access to Saudi inner circles that health problems largely account for Bandar’s protracted time out of the public eye and reportedly have taken a toll on his energy level. Bandar’s long ties to the United States will bring instant credibility to his new duties and come at a critical moment in the bilateral relationship. The Saudis view Iran’s regional belligerence as a major security threat and have spent billions to shore up their defensive capabilities.
January 12, 2012 analysis Gulf States Respond to Iran With Huges Purchases of US Arms:
(The Gulf Cooperation Council states (GCC) are anxiously watching events that are setting Iran on a course of growing confrontation with the West, a course that could threaten their security and the flow of oil out of the Persian Gulf. They’ve responded by strengthening their ties to the United States and signing billion-dollar weapons contracts with U.S. defense firms, including Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and General Electric.
The six GCC states – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait – long have viewed Iran’s regional policies with alarm. Most believe that Iran seeks to become a regional hegemon and that its nuclear and missile programs are a means to that end. All of these states have become increasingly alarmed over the last year at advances to these programs as well as by Iran’s support of terrorism, Tehran’s newly discovered ties to al Qaeda, and a recent Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
Concern by the GCC states about Iran is not new but until recently was mostly expressed behind the scenes. The Guardian of London reported in November 2010 that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program, according to leaked US diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks that also described how other Arab allies secretly called for military action against Tehran. More open concern by Persian Gulf states about Iran coincides with recent advances in Iran’s nuclear program, noted in the International Atomic Energy Agency report issued last fall. A former Saudi official, Prince Turki al-Faisal, recently stated that Saudi Arabia should consider acquiring its own nuclear weapons if Iran succeeds in doing so. The Kuwaiti ambassador in London told a LIGNET staff member late last year that his country has no fears of Israel but views an Iran armed with nuclear weapons with great concern. A similar tone was taken by the UAE ambassador to the United States during a speech last year who described Iran as “the only military threat our military plans for, trains for.” The ambassador added that a nuclear-armed Iran “would threaten our assets, threaten the peace process and threaten the balance of power.” The major dissenter from this critique has been Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who in early December stated that rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear aspirations was “overblown.” The rising security concerns by GCC states about Iran have led to a huge surge in purchases of U.S. military hardware and signing of modernization contracts. Saudi Arabia, a long-time purchaser of U.S. arms, signed a $29.4 billion deal last month for 84 advanced Boeing F-15SA fighter jets. General Electric won the contract to build the engines for these planes. Boeing also will upgrade 70 older F-15s under the contract.
Other recent large U.S. arms sales to GCC states include:
A $3.5 billion sale announced December 23 to the UAE of a system to intercept short to medium-range missiles known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system built by Lockheed Martin. Raytheon won a related radar contract worth $582 million. A $304 million sale to the UAE of Boeing bunker buster bombs. A $1.7 billion contract to upgrade Saudi Arabia’s Patriot missile system and a $900 million deal to sell these missiles to Kuwait. Both contracts were awarded last year to Raytheon. Discussions are also underway among GCC states on a number of regional security initiatives. The major proposal under consideration is pooling military forces to serve under a region-wide command. At the same time, the UAE is completing a pipeline to the Indian Ocean that will bypass the Strait of Hormuz which Iran has threatened to close on multiple occasions.
Tensions with Iran crossed a red line last year, motivating Gulf Cooperation Council states to significantly strengthen their ties to the United States and increase their spending on defense. These states are genuinely fearful of Iranian military adventurism and Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon.
Growing internal tensions in Iran driven by the poor economy, international sanctions and political divisions likely mean that Iran will continue to be a destabilizing influence in the region. Iran also seems unlikely to cease its nuclear weapons research. As a result, U.S. defense firms are likely to continue to see strong sales to Persian Gulf states. One discordant note, although seldom expressed publicly, is a concern among GCC states that the Obama administration in the long term will not back with appropriate action its policy that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. The prevailing critique in the region is that Washington might be tempted to adopt a policy of containment in the face of Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability and might tolerate a nuclear Iran. Such concerns have been heard in Tel Aviv as well.
GCC states are determined to create military deterrents to Iran because they see it as a serious and growing threat to their security. For this reason and because these states are desperate to ensure that the United States maintains a large military presence in the region, they will continue to spend heavily on U.S. military hardware for the foreseeable future).
Saudi Arabia’s new intelligence chief will soon be tested on the Iran question since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is visiting Mecca in mid-August to participate in the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Countries summit.
The civil war in Syria almost certainly will top the agenda. Tehran and Riyadh hold diametrically opposed positions on the Assad regime, with Saudi Arabia allegedly providing a significant amount of covert funding and arms to the Syrian rebels. Much of this support is probably being provided through Saudi intelligence channels.
On August 2, state-controlled Iran Press TV ran a story on Bandar’s new assignment by describing him as the “linchpin of the dastardly subterfuge of the CIA and Mossad against Syria.” The Iranian media also was the conduit for rumors last month that Bandar had been assassinated in a bomb blast in Riyadh, reporting that has been discredited.
In appointing Prince Bandar as the head of Saudi intelligence, the King has chosen an experienced, well known and highly respected senior official who should be able to take on his new duties quickly and effectively provided his health does not compromise his performance. Bandar’s selection as intelligence chief will boost Riyadh’s overall relations with the United States and is likely to further strengthen intelligence ties between the two countries. In the near-term, Bandar’s tough minded approach to terrorism issues will mesh well with the intelligence service he now directs. Saudi intelligence may not have the notoriety of other foreign intelligence services, but it is very well regarded by American intelligence and has taken innovative and often effective approaches to counter terror operations. While the American and Saudi intelligence services have worked well together in the fight against radical Islamist terrorism, there has been some tension in the relationship. For example, an intelligence source who obtained information on a new, more advanced underwear bomb to blow up civilian airliners was a Saudi source who infiltrated an al Qaeda group in Yemen and stole one of these devices and brought it to Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, last May, U.S. officials leaked to the press about this Saudi intelligence source, causing tensions between the United States and Saudi Arabia and rendering the source useless. Saudi Arabia’s effort to rehabilitate Islamist terrorists also has been a source of U.S.-Saudi tension since some of these terrorists have returned to the battlefield. This approach stems from the Kingdom’s preference to patiently monitor and, when possible, rehabilitate terrorist suspects rather than immediately capture or kill them. The Saudis are not about to stop this program and Bandar probably supports it since it appeals to his instincts for subtlety. While Bandar’s extensive time in Washington is well known and will serve future Saudi interests, his relations with the Chinese should not be overlooked. He brokered in 1987 a secret missile deal with China and has maintained ties to a new generation of Chinese officials. This relationship could be important over the next few years. Beijing has been bolstering ties with Saudi Arabia for strategic as well as financial reasons because China has replaced the United States as Riyadh’s largest customer for crude oil. The Saudis likely are trying to use this relationship as leverage to convince China to cease its support for Iran and Syria.
Prince Bandar’s return to governmental service will serve Saudi Arabia’s interests on multiple fronts. His background provides the Riyadh government numerous opportunities to use his skills and relationships to advance its interests.
- The Role of CIA-pampered Saudi Spymaster in Syria (dissidentvoice.org)
- Prince Bandar Bin Sultan: Is The Saudi Spy Chief Dead Or Alive? (ibtimes.com)
- Next Post (chainsoff.wordpress.com)
- Militant Website Reports Bomb Attack Upon Saudi Intelligence HQ, Killing Bandar’s Deputy (therearenosunglasses.wordpress.com)
- The role of CIA-pampered Saudi spymaster in Syria (veteransnewsnow.com)