July 2, 2014 | Policy Brief

Bandar’s Back. Again.

July 2, 2014 | Policy Brief

Bandar’s Back. Again.

Just after midnight local time, Saudi Arabia’s official news wire announced early Tuesday that the King issued royal decrees making major changes in the country’s national security echelons. Most notably, he elevated the controversial Prince Bandar bin Sultan to be his personal advisor and special envoy, while allowing Bandar to keep his ministerial rank and prior position as secretary general of Saudi Arabia’s National Security Council. In addition, the King selected another top royal to fill the intelligence chief post from which Bandar was dismissed in April.

These developments could pose new challenges for the U.S.-Saudi relationship, since Bandar was reportedly taken off the Syria file and then removed from his intelligence post as punishment for his public criticisms of Washington. He was also considered the point man for Riyadh’s pipeline to jihadists in places like Syria.

Bandar’s promotion may also signal a renewed Saudi hard line on regional conflicts now that the terrorist group known as the Islamic State is knocking on the Kingdom’s door. Last week, when King Abdullah authorized emergency measures in response to Iraq’s IS crisis, they emerged from the Saudi NSC, which Bandar administers.

It is unclear whether Prince Bandar ever really departed from the political scene in the first place. Earlier last month, he was clearly visible onboard King Abdullah’s airplane when the monarch flew from Morocco to Cairo for a meeting with Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Arabic media had also been reporting that Bandar may manage Saudi Arabia’s fractious relations with Qatar. 

Even though Bandar is reputed to have struggled with depression and alcohol abuse, he has repeatedly bounced back from career setbacks by being head and shoulders above his competition in terms of basic competence.

The King’s belated choice to replace Prince Bandar at the General Intelligence Directorate is Prince Khalid bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz. Prince Khalid left a job as governor of Riyadh six weeks ago to become deputy minister of defense. However, he apparently came into conflict there with his new boss, Defense Minister and Crown Prince Salman, who is widely reported to be suffering from dementia and whose offspring reportedly view the ministry as their own personal fiefdom. Khalid was dismissed several days ago from the defense ministry at Salman’s request.

Khalid has since landed an even better sinecure at the GID. Saudi Arabia’s defense sector, however, continues to suffer from disorder at the top. More broadly, the king continues to shuffle royals within the government, but political stability in the kingdom appears to be elusive.

David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.