Dangerous Man: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former Saudi Ambassador to the United States, now Chief of the Saudi Intelligence Agency and prime diplomatic mover in the battle to topple Bashar al Assad, now stands accused of being behind the chemical warfare attacks against Syrian civilians on 21 August 2013.
HE IS ARGUABLY one of the most dangerous men on the planet. He has counselled presidents and kings, militants and terrorists, and the almost unlimited resources at his disposal means that his words are all-too-readily translated into deeds. The regime he serves stands high among the world’s most reactionary and corrupt. He is Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Director-General of the Saudi Intelligence Agency.
In early-August, the Prince met with President Vladimir Putin on the outskirts of Moscow where he allegedly attempted to broker an increased-oil-price for acquiescence-over-Syria deal with the Russian President.
According to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in The Telegraph, the Saudi intelligence chief offered Putin a “mix of inducements and threats” to end the impasse over Syria.
Among the latter was the following chilling statement: “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.”
No Mafia boss could have spelled out more clearly the consequences of not accepting the Prince’s “guarantee”. In the crude language of the criminal underworld, the Russians were being told: “Give us a free hand in Syria or Sochi 2014 will be bloodier than Munich 1972.”
Prince Bandar may have underestimated President Putin (a former intelligence director himself) whose ice-cold ruthlessness has been demonstrated on many occasions since becoming Russia’s leader in 2000. Within hours of his supposedly secret discussions with Putin, the Prince’s threats and inducements were in the hands of the state-controlled Russian media. Attempts to blackmail Russia are seldom successful.
That was in early August. Two weeks later, on 21-22 August, the world woke up to the news that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Syrian civilians living in the rebel-controlled Ghouta suburb of the Syrian capital, Damascus, had been attacked with what appeared to be chemical weapons, specifically, the deadly nerve agent Sarin. The author of the attack was said to be Bashar al Assad, the Syrian President.
The prohibitive “red line” announced by US President Barack Obama more than a year earlier, had been crossed.
But was President Assad really so foolish as to order the use of a weapons system which he knew would bring the United States and (most of) its allies into the battle against his government?
Transmissions originally intercepted by the Israeli security agency, Mossad, and released by the US military as “proof” of the Syrian government’s complicity in the chemical attack are actually capable of multiple interpretations.
What the recording contains are the panicked responses of senior Syrian officers desperate to clarify what has happened. Have chemical weapons been used? On whose authority? To what effect?
The intercept, far from providing conclusive evidence of Syrian Government involvement, suggests exactly the opposite. What the Israelis overheard sounds much more like the terrified response of a government whose worst nightmare has just become a reality.
Even the American intelligence officer responding to Foreign Policy magazine admitted: “We don’t know exactly why it happened. We just know it was pretty fucking stupid.”
And now the world is learning that what happened in Damascus on 21 August may not have originated in President Assad’s bunker, but hundreds of kilometres away, in Saudi Arabia.
On the Mint Press News website, a legitimate US media outlet based in Minnesota, freelance journalists Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh have posted a story alleging that: “[F]rom numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the deadly gas attack.”
If true, this report casts the events of the past fortnight in an entirely different light. Gavlak’s story (and we are dealing here with a reputable journalist whose work has been published by the Associated Press, the BBC, PBS and Salon.com) offers us an explanation that makes a great deal more sense than the USA’s or the Saudi-dominated Arab League’s version of events.
After all, who had the most to gain by the introduction of chemical weapons to the Syrian conflict? Certainly not the beleaguered Syrian government. The Saudis, on the other hand, have long been the implacable foes of the secular Baathist political movements that once held sway in Iraq and Syria.
Almost before the ashes of the twin towers had cooled, it was the Saudis who were urging President George W. Bush to direct the righteous wrath of the American people not only against the hapless Afghans, but upon Saudi Arabia’s most hated enemy, Iraq. The American journalist, Bob Woodward, has even asserted that the decision to invade Iraq was communicated to the Saudi Ambassador to the US before President Bush’s own Secretary of State, Colin Powell.
The name of that Saudi Ambassador? Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 3 September 2013.