News that I missed last week: Saudi Arabia has appointed a new intelligence chief to replace Prince Bandar bin Sultan. According the official news agency SPA Bandar was "exempted … from his position at his own request" and replaced by his deputy, Yousef al-Idrissi.Bandar, who for 22 years was the Saudi ambassador to the United States, was widely regarded as one of the main people responsible for the Saudi policy towards Syria. Bandar's departure is not a complete surprise.The prince went abroad for several months for health reasons, and there had been earlier signs that he had fallen from favour and had in effect already been sidelined on Syria. According to sources in Riyadh, Bandar faced strong opposition from the powerful interior minister (and possible future king), Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. According to diplomats the Syria file had been transferred some time ago to this powerful prince, who cracked down on al-Qaida following a wave of deadly attacks in the Gulf state between 2003 and 2006.
For the past 18 months Bandar was responsible for the Saudi efforts to co-ordinate the supply of weapons to Syrian rebels fighting Assad. But he faced criticism for backing extreme Islamist groups. His management of the Syria file also triggered American criticism, diplomats said. Bandar had reproached Washington for its decision not to intervene militarily in Syria and for preventing its allies from providing rebels with weapons, according to diplomats. "Bandar's approach was very black and white," said one well placed observer. "And he seems to have over-promised to the king in terms of confidently predicting Assad's departure." Also Bandar had irritated the Americans with outspoken criticism of Barack Obama's failure to punish Syria following the chemical weapons attack near Damascus last August and concerning the beginning of rapprochement with Iran. Apart from the Syria file, he was also closely involved in Saudi support for Egypt's military rulers after they ousted the Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi. His departure may help heal the rift between the US and the kingdom following last month's meeting between Obama and Abdullah. Of course his departure may also signal the beginning of a different Saudi approach to the Syrian conflict, but it is too early to predict exactly inw haty way. It seems that the kingdom is short of clear visions about policie to follow, now that the king is about 90 years old and the struggle for his succession as it seems, is still wide open as soon as the moment is there.