Prince Bandar bin Sultan, director- general of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate and head of Riyadh’s National Security Council (NSC), is a veteran of the Middle East’s shadow wars and the diplomatic intrigues of the Arab world.
He played a key role with the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in secretly arming the Islamist Mujahedin in Afghanistan to fight the invading Soviets in 1979-89, a clandestine operation that would backfire on them with the post-war formation of Al Qaeda.
He also played a major role in the Irangate scandal in the mid-1980s, helping the Ronald Reagan administration sell weapons to Iran supposedly to free US hostages held in Lebanon and using the proceeds to secretly finance right-wing Contra Guerrillas in Nicaragua.
The affair, uncovered in November 1985, nearly brought down the Reagan administration.
Bandar, the nephew of King Abdullah and son of the late Crown Prince Sultan, flew as a fighter pilot with the Royal Saudi Air Force. His diplomatic career began in 1978.
In October 1983 he was named ambassador to Washington and served there until June 2005.
Prince Bandar developed close relations with the five US presidents who were in office during his tenure, most notably George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
After resigning for “personal reasons” after 22 years in Washington, he returned to Riyadh and was appointed head of the newly established NSC.
He undertook several classified diplomatic missions and was visited frequently by senior White House officials, some of them under conditions of considerable secrecy.
A staunch opponent of Iran and of Syrian President Bashar Assad, he has long headed Saudi operations to topple the Damascus regime.
King Abdullah named him head of the GID, Saudi Arabia’s principal intelligence agency, in July 2012 with a remit to revitalise a service that seemed to have atrophied.
His main mission was to intensify the aggressive policy aimed at ousting the Assad dynasty.
This entailed secretly arming the Syrian rebels and working with the US Central Intelligence Agency to terminate Damascus’ strategic alliance with Iran, the kingdom’s main rival.
Bandar helped establish a secret Saudi-CIA operations centre in Jordan to train handpicked Syrian rebels.
Bandar’s appointment as Saudi intelligence supremo signalled a tough new phase in Saudi efforts for regime change in Damascus.
It “marked a new phase in Saudi politics,” said Nouhad Machnouk, a Lebanese politician with close ties to the Saudi leadership.
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