Bottom Line: Following what happens next in Syria means following the machinations of Saudi Prince Bandar.
Analysis: Saudi Prince Bandar, the man tasked with handling some very serious foreign affairs by the Saudi King, is behind much of what is happening in Syria right now. It is Bandar through which a lot of the weapons on both fronts are flowing. He’s a household name among intelligence communities, including the CIA, who use him to their own ends. In Syria, his goal is to get rid of Assad, and while he may be losing that game for the time being, change is in the air. Bandar, the former Saudi ambassador to Washington, is a dangerous figure who has far too great a role in what is happening right now in the Middle East. But in Syria, the chemical attack last week is the most convenient thing that could have happened for Bandar and the Saudi goal of pushing for direct US intervention. The chemical attack—which the US publicly says was most likely perpetrated by Assad—makes no sense at this time for the Assad regime. The Syrian rebels are losing and they are clearly outgunned, but the West has hesitated to intervene directly unless the “red line” (chemical attacks) is crossed. Now it has been crossed, and the Saudis have won their lobbying power in Washington. (Remember, it was the Saudis who late last year tried to convince Washington that a chemical attack at that time was the work of Assad). There will be consequences for the wider Middle East here, not least Jordan, which has been taken over as the covert operations theater for training Syrian rebels to fight Assad. This makes Jordan’s border a clear target for the Assad regime, but it has little choice, dependent as it is on financial backing from Saudi Arabia.
Recommendation: Nothing is as it appears in the media where it concerns Syria. Prince Bandar has been the key to this puzzle since the summer of last year when the Saudi King anointed him to make the Kingdom’s foreign policy ambitions a reality. Bandar is now in charge of the Saudi General Intelligence Agency, among a number of other unofficial responsibilities. Bandar is everywhere, and we should be wary of Saudi Arabia controlling these theaters of conflict and much of the weapons shipment venues (including Croatia, through which Soviet-era weapons are moving) in between. During Ramadan this year, he organized a covert shipment of weapons from Israel, funneled to Sunni jihadists in Syria—and then he convinced Washington to kick out the Qataris—his competitors on the Syrian conflict scene. The broader concern over Bandar should be that he is promoting jihad in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and the sectarian violence he is selling could be the undoing of the Middle East.