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Saudi veteran intelligence chief calls it quits

By Azadeh Ansari, CNN
updated 8:38 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
  • Prince Bandar bin Sultan was appointed as the chief of intelligence in July 2012
  • He served as the country's ambassador to the United States for 22 years until 2005
  • General Staff Yousif bin Ali Al-Idreesi takes on role as acting chief of General Intelligence

(CNN) -- Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the man behind the kingdom's committed policy to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has stepped down from his intelligence post, according to the country's official news agency.

Considered one of the most familiar faces in the Saudi Royal House, Prince Bandar was relieved of his post as chief of General Intelligence on Tuesday "upon his request." General Staff Yousif bin Ali Al-Idreesi has been assigned to act as Chief of General Intelligence immediately, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan served as the Saudi ambassador to the United States for 22 years until 2005, and was appointed the chief of General Intelligence in 2012.

"Even though he was ambassador to the United States for 22 years and very close to the Bushes, he was no friend of the United States for the last three or four years," Christopher Dickey, foreign editor at The Daily Beast, said Wednesday in an interview on CNN.

Bandar took on the thorny task of building and implementing Saudi Arabia's policy on Syria. He became a staunch supporter of the rebel cause, supporting the Syrian Free Army in trying to topple al-Assad's government, and leveraged his close ties with his traditional friends in the West, calling on them to arm the Syrian opposition.

However, a lack of international action on Syria and a thawing of Western ties with Iran marked a watershed in Saudi's global orientation. Iran backs the al-Assad regime.

"Bandar was extremely hawkish on Iran even before he had this official position," said Dickey. "One time or another he's tried to take on Iran, and he hasn't been very successful at that."

In October, Prince Bandar was widely quoted as saying the kingdom would be making a "major shift" in dealings with Washington. This new stance, analysts say, could signal a pendulum swing when it comes to Saudi Arabia's policy toward Syria.

"I think the American Saudi partnership in the region will probably be less rocky than when Bandar was running the show," Dickey said.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who visited Riyadh in March for the first time since 2009, discussed "tactical" differences with Saudi Arabia over the question of the arming of the Syrian rebels. A senior administration official told reporters after President Obama's face-to-face meeting with Saudi's King Abdullah that the United States and Saudi Arabia are "very much aligned" despite recent policy differences over Syria and Iran.

"I think the moderates are coming in and they are going to set the agenda for the next stage," said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, professor of political science at UAE University.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have a longstanding history, an alliance forged most notably by oil and most recently by the rise of al Qaeda-affiliated networks in the region.

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