RIYADH—Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah appointed a veteran former Saudi ambassador to Washington as the head of the country's intelligence agencies Thursday, as the kingdom continues to push for stronger action on Syria.
|Bandar bin Sultan|
Prince Muqrin has been criticized privately by diplomats, and publicly by Saudis on Twitter, for perceived ineffectiveness as the head of Saudi intelligence. Prince Muqrin will serve instead as an adviser to the king, the official Saudi Press Agency said.
For Saudis and Westerners who remember Prince Bandar as a driving force rallying international support and procuring weapons for Muslim fighters seeking to push Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the 1980s, the appointment was a sign that the Saudis might play a more influential role in uprisings that may remake the Arab world, especially in Syria.
"In these very hectic moments for Saudi foreign policy…we need Bandar bin Sultan," said Abdullah al-Shammri, a political analyst. "He's a volcano, and we need a volcano at this moment."
Mr. al-Shammri cited what he called Prince Bandar's "special relationship" with American officials. He also mentioned parallels between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia working together in the 1980s against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and current circumstances in Syria, where the U.S., Saudi Arabia and others are trying to overcome Russian and Chinese objections to tougher action against Bashar al-Assad.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was also responsible for the good relations Prince Bandar enjoys with China, noted Michael Stephens, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar. "If they're looking to increase multilateral engagement on the Syrian issue, he's their man," Stephens said of the Saudis and Prince Bandar.
Stephens noted, however, that Saudi intelligence hasn't traditionally been a place for active engagement in Saudi foreign-policy aims.
Prince Bandar, son of the late defense minister and crown prince, Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud, wielded enormous influence as Saudi ambassador to Washington for two decades, and was a close ally of then-President George W. Bush and other U.S. leaders.
His removal in 2005 was officially described as stemming from personal reasons, although some speculated that illness or a falling out with King Abdullah was responsible. He had kept a much lower profile in recent years as head of the National Security Council.