TEHRAN – Professor Nader Entessar is of the opinion that there is no “direct correlation” between the dismissal of Prince Bandar bin Sultan as Saudi Arabia's spy chief and Washington's regional foreign policy but sees it as a sign of a “power struggle” in the royal family.
“The abruptness of the message and its terse tone reflect the continuing behind-the-scene power struggle in the al-Saud family,” Entessar said in an interview with the Tehran Times.
“Bandar was always viewed as Washington's man in Riyadh,” says Entessar, who teaches at South Alabama University.
He also believes that the change does not seem to lead to a major foreign policy shift toward Iran by Riyadh.
“It is possible that some changes may occur in Saudi Arabia's policy posture towards Iran, but I don't think it is very likely.”
This is the text of the interview:
Q: What is the reason behind the replacement of Prince Bandar as Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief?
A: The official Saudi Press Agency announced a terse royal decree according to which Bandar was released from his post at "his request" and was replaced by General Youssef bin Ali al-Idrisi, who was Bandar's deputy at the General Intelligence Presidency (GIP). The announcement did not indicate if Bandar has been removed from his other important position, namely the secretary general of the Saudi National Security Council. Both the abruptness of the message and its terse tone reflect the continuing behind-the-scene power struggle in the al-Saud family. About three weeks prior to the announcement of Bandar's "resignation," Saudi official sources had reported that Bandar was in Morocco convalescing from shoulder surgery. It now appears that Bandar was in the process of being sacked, and his Morocco trip was a cover for the process that ultimately led to Bandar's removal from his powerful position.
Q: What will be the impact of this change on Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, the king of Saudi Arabia?
A: When Abdullah engineered Bandar's appointment as Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief in 2012, he did so for two main reasons: Bandar's uncompromising hardline stance against Syria's Assad, and his opposition to Iran's nuclear program. In both areas, Bandar's policies have been counterproductive and have damaged Saudi Arabia's regional clout. It is possible that Abdullah's adversaries in the house of Saud may use this policy failure to further weaken Abdullah's position. However, it is too early to gauge the implications of Bandar' most recent downfall on King Abdullah's political fortunes.
Q: Is it possible that Bandar’s removal cause a change in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy toward Iran?
A: It is possible that some changes may occur in Saudi Arabia's policy posture towards Iran, but I don't think it is very likely. Bandar certainly held hawkish anti-Iranian views, but he was just one individual among many who shaped Saudi Arabia's foreign policy in the region. Also, if Bandar keeps his position in the country's National Security Council, he will remain an influential figure in Saudi Arabia's foreign policy machinery.
Q: Can there be any link between Bandar’s dismissal and U.S. policy in the Middle East?
A: At this time, there doesn't seem to be a direct correlation between Bandar's removal as Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief and Washington's regional foreign policy. Bandar was always viewed as the Washington's man in Riyadh.
Nader Entessar is professor of the University of South Alabama. He is the author of Kurdish Ethnonationalism (1992) and the co-editor of Reconstruction and Regional Diplomacy in the Persian Gulf (Routledge, 1992) and Iran and the Arab world.