With their policy in disarray over Syria, there is confusion and panic among the hordes of princes in Saudi Arabia. Based on recent statements and developments, there are clearly deep divisions on how to handle the fast changing situation. There are those (Bandar, for instance) that want to intensify interference in Syria while others want to cut their losses since they see the writing on the wall.
October 29, 2013, 08:37 EDT
The grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, has told young Saudis they should not go to Syria to fight in what he called the civil war.
"This is all wrong, it's not obligatory," al-Sheikh said in a lecture at a mosque, according to a report yesterday in the Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat. His warning was a reference to some Saudi preachers encouraging young Saudis to join the foreign-backed rebellion in Syria that has failed to dislodge Bashar al-Asad from power.
Saudi Arabia, one of the principal backers and financiers of the rebellion in Syria, has been gripped by confusion since the US refused to attack Syria after allegations of use of chemical weapons. The Saudis’ Syria file is handled by intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan who has lashed out at the Americans by threatening to shift Saudi policy.
While Bandar is not in charge of formulating foreign policy, he has a habit of making outlandish statements. He had hoped—and planned—for the US to attack Syria. To facilitate this, Bandar supplied chemical shells to the rebels without informing them of their content. The Saudi spy chief had hoped that their use would automatically trigger a US attack since Barack Obama had declared the use of chemical weapons a “red line”.
In the US there is no appetite for more wars among an economically depressed population. Obama was not sure of support in Congress and the Pentagon also warned him against any more adventures. Russia came to Obama’s rescue by offering him a face saving formula.
Following this setback, Bandar has been blowing hot and cold, but there are also indications that within the House of Saud, there is strong disagreement. For instance, a detailed report in Al-Hayat newspaper on October 13 exposed the rebels as deviants and bereft of proper knowledge of Islamic principles. The report by Omar Kayed was a devastating blow to the rebels that had hitherto been presented as Islamic revolutionaries.
For the record, Al Hayat is owned by Prince Khalid bin Sultan, Bandar’s half-brother (Bandar is the illegitimate son of Sultan and was born to a concubine). Bandar is not much liked by the rest of the family; they do not consider him to be true blood Saudi.
Now Al Hayat has carried the Saudi grand mufti’s statement about advising young Saudis not to go to Syria. Bandar has intensified efforts to send and train mercenaries into Syria following the American rebuff.
The Saudi grand mufti poured cold water over claims by other preachers that the struggle in Syria was jihad. He said, "These are feuding factions and one should not go there. I do not advise one to go there ... Going to a land that you do not know and without experience, you will be a burden to them, what they want from you is your prayer."
Interestingly, the grand mufti’s lecture was titled, "Deviation among the youth," clearly denouncing the rebellion in Syria as “deviation”.
In addressing other preachers, he said, "Muslim should be fearful of God and not deceive young Muslims and exploit their weakness and lack of insight and push them to an abyss." He also challenged them: "I advise them [the preachers] to advise as they would advise their sons," in a clear reference that if they insist on sending young Saudis to their death, then they should start with their own sons.
As it becomes clear that the foreign instigated war in Syria is not going according to plan and that the young Saudis being sent there would return battle-hardened and become a threat to the regime, panic has gripped the House of Saud. In these fast changing circumstances, Bandar is likely to be an early casualty.