RIYADH – Saudi Arabia has replaced its veteran intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan “at his own request”, an official television station in the kingdom announced Tuesday.

In a royal decree, the powerful official was replaced “at his own request” by his deputy, Yousef al-Idrissi, said Al-Ekhbariya, a government-run satellite channel.

Bandar was abroad for several months for health reasons, with diplomats saying he had been sidelined in Saudi efforts to support rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

During Prince Bandar’s absence, Saudi Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef was put in charge of the Syrian file and of the intelligence agency.

The security officials said last week that the 65 year-old Prince was seeking medical attention in the US and resting in Morocco after surgery on his shoulder.

Bandar, who formerly served as Saudi ambassador to the US for 22 years, has had special responsibility for the Levant for years, leading Saudi intelligence and strategic affairs in the region.

Analysts and intelligence sources have repeatedly said that Bandar has been the key figure trying to boost Saudi weapons flow to Syrian rebel forces seeking to oust President Bashar Assad’s government.

The security sources said that Bandar held a number of official meetings while in Morocco, including with Saudi deputy defense minister Salman bin Sultan.

The deputy defense minister briefed Bandar on his official visits to Washington and Paris last month, they added, also saying that Bandar met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan while in Marrakech.

Informed sources had revealed in December that Bandar would be sidelined because the King and a large number of other Saudi princes were unhappy with his handling of Syria’s crisis.

A top Saudi diplomat had previously said that Bandar could not have taken any decisions without King Abdullah’s approval, including his moves with regard to Syria.

He said that the interior minister took over Bandar’s responsibilities in his absence because he too had experience in dealing with security affairs.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=65424.