Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bandar, the Prince of Jihad: Expect a Syrian Shift in Power

August 6, 2013
In theory, Syrian opposition fighters now have one single commander: Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan. The man, who had a failed military adventure in Beirut, is vying today to alter the balance of power in Syria. But his foes say they will not let him win this time either.

Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi intelligence chief, is no ordinary policymaker in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom ruled by his family. According to sources familiar with his history, Bandar is “at once the solution and the problem in his country’s diplomatic crisis.”

A Syrian rebel fighter fires from a truck during clashes with forces loyal to the regime in the eastern Syrian town of Deir Ezzor on 1 August 2013. (Photo: Ahmad Aboud)
To be sure, the “legendary” ambassador in Washington has compensated for the total absence of senior decision-makers in the ruling family, who are either passive by nature, or are incapacitated because of their illnesses – from King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, to Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, all the way to Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz and the Second Deputy Prime Minister Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz.

Bandar is essentially the only member of the House of Saud to have a proactive diplomatic approach, with access to the major decision-making capitals of the world, from Washington to Moscow.

Bandar recently visited Moscow to negotiate in his capacity as the “Prince of the Mujahideen” in Syria, including those who hail from Chechnya, Dagestan, and the Caucasus in Russia’s backyard. From Dagestan alone, more than a hundred fighters are enlisted in the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, which is active in northern Syria.

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