Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, the head of Saudi intelligence and the chief national security advisor to King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, is said to be currently in the United States for undisclosed medical treatment.
His departure for the United States comes at a moment when there are rumors circulating in the Arab media that a shakeup is about to take place among the top officials of the Kingdom. A January 19, 2014 story, published in a Lebanese paper close to Hezbollah, claimed that U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford told a group of Syrian National Coalition leaders during a recent meeting in Istanbul, Turkey that Prince Bandar was on an extended leave in the United States, suffering from “sickness and psychological fatigue.” The purpose of the Ford meeting was to pressure the SNC to attend the Geneva II conference.
Other news reports accurately disclose that the Obama Administration had also pressured Saad Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister and head of the Future Movement, to enter into a coalition government with Hezbollah to end the ten month stalemate in Lebanon. On January 17, Hariri said publicly that he had invited the Hezbollah participation in the government. The proposal to end the government crisis came from Amal leader Nabi Berri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.
Top Obama Administration officials have become increasingly alarmed that the escalating violence in Lebanon, spilling over from Syria, could rekindle a civil war, and therefore pressed for the national unity deal.
While there is no confirmation of the report about the possibility of a shakeup in the Saudi leadership impacting Prince Bandar, there are definitely “winds of change” sweeping through the Kingdom. In December, King Abdullah appointed a new Minister of Education, Prince Khalid bin Faisal, the son of the late King Faisal who had been Governor of Mecca until the appointment. Prince Khalid bin Faisal’s appointment, according to a US diplomat with decades of experience with the Gulf Cooperation Council, “sent shockwaves through the conservative religious establishment” because the Prince is widely known as a reformer who has differed in the past with the Wahhabi religious hierarchy. The appointment is seen as a move on the part of the King to introduce significant reforms into the primary and secondary education systems in the Kingdom.