A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Is Muhammad bin Nayef Replacing Bandar bin Sultan on the Saudi Syria Account?

Earlier today The Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Intelligence Chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who for decades was Ambassador to the US, had been "replaced" as the Saudi responsible for Syria policy due to failures of Saudi policy in supporting the moderate Syrian rebels. Rumors about Bandar being either ill or on the way out due to the failures of his Syria policy and worsening relations with the US have been in the air for weeks, however. [Update: Let me clarify that the WSJ piece didn't explicitly say that he'd been replaced as head of intelligence; I simply read it that way at first and have changed my text to reflect the fact that the replacement only involves the Syria issue.]
This Washington Post piece by David Ignatius, known for his links in US intelligence circles, says that Western and Middle Eastern "spymasters" met to discuss Syria strategy and that Muhammad bin Nayef has taken over the Syria responsibility from Bandar, "who has been suffering from a back ailment and whose leadership of the program was seen as uneven."

One of the issues for the Saudis  is the growing power of Jihadi groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Muhammad bin Nayef, when he was Deputy Interior Minister under his late father, was well-known as the main anti-terrorism chief against al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), presumably even more so after an AQAP figure tried to kill him in 2009 by detonating a bomb inserted in his (the suicide bomber's) rectum. Muhammad received wounds but survived.

Bandar may well be on the way out at General Intelligence, but it would make little sense for Muhammad bin Nayef (who's on the fast track, clearly) to take a demotion. Giving him just the Syria dossier makes a lot more sense.


Ellen Knickmeyer said...

What about my writing that "Saudi Arabia has sidelined its veteran intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, as leader of the kingdom's efforts to arm and fund Syrian rebels," makes you presume I was reporting he was replaced as head of general intelligence?

Hussein said...

Few weeks ago A Lebanese politician/academic, internationally very respected and very well-known for his good relations with the KSA, mentioned on a TV show that Bandar was undergoing treatment in US. His health condition was not at its best. He confirmed it.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Ellen: My mistake; I've clarified the post; it was how I read it but not what you said.

D. Ottawai said...

Bandar is more probably suffering from an eye than back problem.

All that squinting looking for a needle (the moderates) in a haystack (jihadists) has got to take quite a toll on one's eyes.

Surely the disappointment would have been enough to turn a weaker man to drink.