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Saudi Intelligence Chief Replaced

Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, has stepped down from his post. His resignation came at "his own request," according to Saudi state media. The 65 year old prince is being replaced by his deputy, General Youssef al Idrissi.

Bandar had been spearheading Saudi efforts to unseat Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the bitter and bloody Syrian civil war, supporting various Sunni rebel factions. The Saudi prince had faced criticism for reportedly working with al-Qaida as part of those efforts.

American University of Beirut Professor Hilal Khashan told VOA that supporting al-Qaida is a sore spot in the kingdom, which struggled 10 years to evict the group from its soil.

"There was a prelude to dismissing him a few months ago. The Saudis announced they would put on trial any Saudi fighting in Syria and Bandar invested in supporting al-Qaida in Syria, he wanted to get rid of the Syrian regime at any cost, even to the point of working with al-Qaida. So, the moment the Saudis decided to ban Saudis from going to Syria it became clear Bandar's approach to Syria has failed and the Saudis were about to alter their policy on Syria."

Khashan says other Saudi princes feared Bandar's support for al-Qaida in Syria would come back to haunt them

"He fell from grace because obviously he failed in Syria. Since 2006, when he was appointed as the kingdom's intelligence boss, he disappeared from the scene four times, mainly because he kept clashing with members of the royal family. He is a difficult person and I understand he is arrogant and was sent abroad on the pretext of seeking medical service."

Security analyst Anthony Cordesman, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, is more cautious assessing the reason for Bandar's resignation. He spoke to VOA via Skype.

"Let's be blunt. First, this kind of speculation about changes in the Saudi royal family has a history of decades worth of being wrong. In the case of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, there are a couple of realities to understand…he's had a long history of medical problems….he's had a long history of working well with the King and the royal court. Now, no one can dismiss the possibility that a policy issue was involved, but when you have this kind of medical history and this kind of relationship with the other princes one has to be very careful about saying that this is a policy related issue.

Cordesman also disputes suggestions that Bandar was the main funder or control point for radical militants in Syria.

Prince Bandar's resignation was cheered by Saudi adversaries including Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Could Bandar's departure provide any possibility of improved understanding between Saudi Arabia and Iran? Cordesman doesn't think so.

"You have to be very careful here. Prince Saud, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, has been absolutely clear about his concern over Iran's role in Iraq, Iran's role in Bahrain, Iran's role in Yemen and Iran's role in Syria and Lebanon. Now one could argue whether all of those concerns are valid or not, but this is the position that is certainly the official position of the Saudi government… least as yet, Prince Bandar's role is not going to make that kind of shift."

Prince Bandar was a well-known figure in Washington, where he served as Saudi ambassador for nearly 30 years. But his more recent relations with the United States had been rocky. He reportedly criticized the Obama administration for not supplying Syrian rebels with heavy weaponry and was reported to have threatened on several occasions to affect a "major shift" away from the Saudi kingdom's long alliance with Washington.

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