He was influential in the highest circles of power globally, master of intrigue, trusted by his King yet his name figured in dubious arms deals. He was phenomenally rich and travelled in a 75 million dollar Boeing 737 gifted to him by the BAe as part payback for the forty billion dollar Al Yamamah arms deal with the BAe in 1985. He was his country’s Ambassador in the US from 1983 to 2005. After that, he maintained a low profile till the onset of the Arab Spring in 2011. Gifted in arranging covert deals it is suspected that he was involved in negotiating the purchase of nuclear missiles from Pakistan. Meet Bandar Bush aka Bandar bin Sultan Al-Saud. The famous photo that showed his closeness to George H Bush with a jeans clad Bandar seated on the arm of a sofa chatting to the President says it all. It was Bandar who had helped convince Reagan to aid the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980s.
According to Craig Unger (House of Bush, House of Saud), it was Bandar’s influence on the Bush administration that ensured that all Saudi notables, including many from the bin Laden family, were successfully airlifted out of the US two days after the September 11 terrorist attacks. This was done despite a total ban on all flights in US airspace. Almost an eminence grise to successive Saudi kings, Prince Bandar was also mortal and on July 26 he disappeared, believed killed, barely a week after he was appointed chief of Saudi intelligence. The unintended consequences of unacknowledged actions.
The Saudis had made use of the intense hatred and fear the Americans have for the Hizbollah to launch into Syria. The Syrians had long suspected Bandar of aiding the Al Qaeda in Syria and earlier in the Lebanon. What must have stunned the Saudi government into silence was not just that Bandar was killed but that the Syrians had the reach to strike deep in Saudi Arabia.
The Arab Spring, which has had mixed results in the Arab world, has not bloomed in Syria and all that has has happened is that a lot of blood has been spilt. What we have instead, are endless threats from the West, Chinese and Russian determination to continue to support Syria, and doggedness from Bashar al Assad. The entire movement threatens to degenerate into a Shia-Sunni struggle for supremacy with the trophy actually being Iran, always seen by the neighbouring Sunni regimes as a threat to themselves. While the Syrian opposition to Assad gets equipped, armed and assisted in propaganda by a friendly West, various intelligence agencies have been playing their own shadowy games. Videos depicting violence in gruesome detail are in circulation via Beirut which will provide ammunition for a full blown civil war in the country.
Inevitably it becomes necessary to involve intelligence agencies when there is a lot of dangerous and dirty work to be done, there being no such thing as a clean war. The ubiquitous CIA and the much feared Mossad are said to be involved in Syria. The German intelligence, BND was perhaps the first to attribute bombings in Syria to Al Qaeda. The SIS (MI 6) of the UK has recently emphasised the importance of covert operations in Iran especially in the context of Iran’s nuclear programme. Egyptians have been carrying out their own battles in the Sinai against what is feared to be Al Qaeda terrorists; and, the KGB’s successor, the FIS is present in Syria and the only agency that one does not hear of is the Chinese.
The US having gone into Iraq with misplaced intentions found the regional rival, Iran on the ascendent by the time the US declared victory in 2009. This had to be rectified. Seymour Hersh, the well known investigative journalist had also said the then Secretary of State made it quite apparent that the US would support the Sunnis against the Shias in any struggle. In the games being played there is a real possibility that future conflict in the region will increasingly acquire a sectarian character with the Shias arraigned against the Sunni majority. It is not clear yet if the map of the region is being attempted to be redrawn on ethnic or religious lines or both.
The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)