Saudi Arabia has appointed its former ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, as the new intelligence chief, replacing Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, Saudi media reported on Thursday, citing a royal decree.
Prince Muqrin, meanwhile, was named an adviser and special envoy to King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, according to the Saudi state television.
The TV reported that Prince Bandar, the son of the late Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz and the former ambassador to the United States, “has been appointed as the head of the Saudi Intelligence Agency, in addition to his post as the secretary general of the National Security Council.”
Prince Bandar was the kingdom’s envoy to Washington for 22 years, a period spanning the first Gulf War and the Sep 11 2001 attacks on the United States.
Saudi Arabia is locked in a dispute with regional power Iran over the latter’s role and influence in Bahrain, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
“There was a feeling that we needed stronger intelligence and Bandar has a history of this sort,” said Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi commentator with ties to the royal family.
“We are witnessing the start of a new Middle East with the collapse of the Syrian President (Bashar al-Assad’s) regime. We are worried about Jordan and Lebanon,” he said.
Bandar has headed Saudi Arabia’s National Security Council for seven years but has shunned the limelight since leaving his Washington post in 2005.
“He’s been close to that position heading the National Security Council and is very well aware of the intelligence apparatus. He’s also been involved in Saudi security issues of the highest order for the last 10 years,” said Robert Jordan, U.S. ambassador to Riyadh from 2001-03.
Jordan, who said he worked closely with Prince Bandar during that time, and described him as “the ultimate shuttle diplomat,” said the appointment might help strengthen the alliance between Washington and its closest Arab ally.
Prince Bandar is a son of the late Crown Prince Sultan, who died last October and had served as defense minister for five decades.