By Julio Godoy*
It happened at least twice in January and February 2014: U.S. senator John McCain expressly thanked “God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar and our Qatari friends” for supporting the Sunni Islamic opposition to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The first time McCain said so to the U.S. television network CNN in January 2014, the second time one month later during a speech at the Munich Security conference.
McCain was simply referring to Saudi Arabian help to create the Islamic State guerrilla group terrorising its way to Damascus. Prince Bandar bin Sultan was once Saudi ambassador in Washington – curiously enough, during 2001, coinciding with the attacks against the World Trade Centre and Washington.
Curiously enough because 15 out of 19 of the September 2001 airplane hijackers were Saudis, as was Osama Bin Laden. Prince Bandar was also the powerful and merciless secretary-general of the Saudi National Security Council from 2005 to January 2015, and head of the Saudi General Intelligence from 2012 to mid-2014. In addition, Prince Bandar has been a treasured business partner of the U.S. Bush dynasty, using the Carlyle group as one of his investment avenues.
McCain’s expression of gratitude for Bandar was most peculiar, since the Saudi prince has been for many years – to say the least – a highly controversial figure in Arab and world politics. In August 2013, only five months before McCain’s repeated kowtows in his honour, Prince Bandar had faced serious accusations that he had provided chemical weapons to the Syrian Sunni guerrilla groups fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad, to attack the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, in which at least 335 people died.
A Sunni Prince of Darkness
The accusations against Bandar surfaced as Syrian rebels acknowledged that Saudi-controlled mercenaries had given them “tube-like structures” and “huge gas bottles” to carry around, or to store them in tunnels around Damascus. Prince Bandar was reported to have supplied these “gas bottles” and “tube-like structures”. Apparently, the rebels were never told how they had to use the bottles. Nor were they warned about the contents.
But according to Western official accounts of the events, staunchly insinuated by the U.S., Britain and France, and shared by the Arab League, the deadly chemical attack on Syrian civilians was perpetrated by Syrian army troops, by Bashar al-Assad. Until today, Western governments and media continue to repeat the accusations against Assad, persistently ignoring the questions about Bandar’s role in the tragedy.
By the same token, Western governments ignored the leaked transcripts of a closed-door meeting between Prince Bandar and the Russian head of state Vladimir Putin in August 2013. These prove, if any proof was necessary, the ruthless nature of Saudi foreign policies, especially in Syria.
According to the transcripts, Prince Bandar offered Putin a strategic alliance in the Middle East if the Russian leader agreed to topple Bashar al-Assad. In case Putin would not agree to such objective, Bandar unsubtly threatened to order Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics held in Sochi in February 2014. Putin did not accept the offer, and until today remains loyal to Assad.
According to a version of the meeting between Bandar and Putin published by the British newspaper, The Telegraph, the Saudi prince allegedly said: “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.”
Prince Bandar went on to say that Chechens operating in Syria were a pressure tool that could be switched on and off, The Telegraph report adds. “These groups do not scare us,” Bandar said. “We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role in Syria’s political future.”
Such allegations against Bandar beg the question of why McCain was so keen in praising in public the Sunni armed opposition to Assad, or in thanking the Sunnite despots in the Arabian Gulf for helping to create the Islamic State guerrilla.
In fact, McCain was not alone on genuflecting before the Sunni despots. A large coalition of Sunnite countries, including Turkey, and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) members were at the time providing military, logistics, and public relations support to the radical Islamic opposition to Assad. And this under the motto: “The enemy of our enemy is our friend, regardless of his or her (our temporary friend’s) credentials.”
Oil for weapons for Islamic State
For instance, there is strong evidence suggesting that Turkey has been purchasing and allowing the trafficking of oil from the fields Islamic State controls in Iraq and Syria. The brutal Islamic guerrilla group now accused of organising the terror attacks against civilians in Paris is known to finance its operations thanks to massive inflows of money from oil clandestine sales.
According to the British Guardian newspaper, “These (oil) profits helped (the Islamic State) pay its burgeoning wages bill: 500 U.S. dollars a month for a fighter, and about 1,200 U.S. dollars for a military commander.”
Similarly, strong is further evidence that Saudi Arabia was pivotal in creating the Sunnite Islamic State terror group, to obliterate the Saudi’s Shia enemies in Iraq and Syria. In July 2014, the British Independent newspaper reported a conversation between the legendary Prince Bandar bin Sultan and the former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove sometime in the late 1990s, maybe early 2000s.
According to Dearlove himself, Prince Bandar told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”
Shia is the second-largest denomination of Islam, and constitutes the archenemy of Sunnite Muslims. Especially the extreme intolerant Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam, with headquarters in the Saudi capital Riyadh, sees Shia and other Islamic sects as non-Muslim apostates and polytheists.
Most of the Shia population is concentrated in Iran, therefore the deadly enmity between Riyadh and that denomination of Islam. Large numbers of Shias also live in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Arab world. It is common wisdom nowadays, that the war in Syria is a surrogate war, only a battle in the larger conflict between Sunnis and Shias. Bashar al Assad is an ally of Shia-ruled Iran.
Dearlove himself confirmed this quote in July 2014, during a speech he held at the Royal United Services Institute. Dearlove, head of MI6 from 1999 to 2004, called the conversation with Bandar “a chilling comment that I remember very well indeed”.
Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for the Independent newspaper, called Dearlove’s revelation “explosive”, but at the same time wondered why it attracted “surprisingly little (media) attention.” Cockburn added: “Coverage of Dearlove’s speech focused instead on his main theme that the threat from (Islamic State) to the West is being exaggerated because, unlike Bin Laden’s al-Qaida, it is absorbed in a new conflict that ‘is essentially Muslim on Muslim’. Unfortunately, Christians in areas captured by (Islamic State) are finding this is not true, as their churches are desecrated and they are forced to flee. A difference between al-Qaida and Isis is that the latter is much better organised; if it does attack Western targets the results are likely to be devastating.” (The emphasis is the writer’s).
As Paris can confirm now, Cockburn was deadly right in his prediction.
From Riyadh to Paris
It seems, therefore, that the NATO powers repeated in Syria the very same mistake they committed in Afghanistan some 30 years ago: By supporting their Saudi and other Sunni allies in a highly volatile area, they have again helped to create a ruthless monster, a band of soulless criminals who have no scruples at all about showing themselves point blank executing defenceless people, only because their victims are Shia, or even eating their enemies’ visceral organs.
By supporting Prince Bandar’s nihilist policies, NATO members, France included, were ready to sacrifice the values they claim to defend on the shameful altar of realpolitik. Toppling Bashar al Assad has been since 2011 NATO’s top priority, and this objective has blinded governments and media as far as the nature of Sunni terrorism is concerned. In the NATO amoral accountancy, the horrors and the victims of the Syrian civil war were quantité négligeable as long as the top priority was somehow achieved.
For the European Union, rather recent hesitant search for a solution to the Syrian catastrophe became a top priority only after hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the war arrived in Hungary, Austria, and the Balkan countries. Before, as long as the refugees remained in Jordan, Lebanon or in Turkey, the EU didn’t feel concerned, and left thousands to die in the Mediterranean Sea.
It is also often forgotten that the Islamic State emerged in Iraq, first as a reaction to the U.S.-led invasion 13 years ago, and then as a Saudi-controlled militia to get rid of the Shia Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Al-Maliki was practically ousted in 2014, under pressure from Saudi Arabia.
As a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable dated March 22, 2009 shows, the Saudi king Abdullah told U.S. diplomats, that he had “no confidence whatsoever in … Maliki, and the (U.S.) Ambassador (Ford M. Fraker) is well aware of my views.”
The U.S. cable goes on: “The King affirmed that he had refused former (U.S.) President (George W.) Bush’s entreaties that he meet with al-Maliki. The King said he had met al-Maliki early in al-Maliki’s term of office, and the Iraqi had given him a written list of commitments for reconciliation in Iraq, but had failed to follow through on any of them. For this reason, the King said, al-Maliki had little credibility. ‘I don’t trust this man,’ the King stated, ‘He’s an Iranian agent.’ The King said he had told both Bush and former (U.S.) Vice president (Richard) Cheney ‘how can I meet with someone I don’t trust?’ Al-Maliki has ‘opened the door for Iranian influence in Iraq’ since taking power, the King said, and he was ‘not hopeful at all’ for al-Maliki, ‘or I would have met with him’.”
The Saudis needed five years of waging war through the Islamic State to reach their goals in Iraq, but by mid-2014 al-Maliki was no longer prime minister. In other words, Saudi fingerprints are all over the crime scenes in the Middle East, in Paris, in Yemen. And yet, France and the NATO prefer to bomb some locations in Syria, while at the same time they continue arming the likes of Prince Bandar bin Sultan in Riyadh.
*Julio Godoy is an investigative journalist and a member of the IDN Editorial Board. He has won international recognition for his work, including the Hellman-Hammett human rights award, the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Investigative Reporting Online by the U.S. Society of Professional Journalists, and the Online Journalism Award for Enterprise Journalism by the Online News Association and the U.S.C. Annenberg School for Communication, as co-author of the investigative reports “Making a Killing: The Business of War” and “The Water Barons: The Privatisation of Water Services”.