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A Key Saudi Royal Dodges Death

Saudi Arabia's chief counterterrorism official has narrowly survived a suicide attack -- an event significant for two reasons. First, it underscores that the Saudi royals are still in a very dangerous battle with al Qaeda, which would love to overthrow their regime. The good news is that the Saudis have had success in fighting domestic al Qaeda militants over the past few years, something Obama officials praise the Saudis for. This attack is an ominous sign, however, given that the BBC calls it the first known assassination attempt against one of the royals since the anti-al Qaeda campaign began in earnest after 9/11.

Second, it's notable that the would-be-assassin's target, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, is the son of a likely heir to the Saudi throne, Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz. Remember: Saudi King Abdullah is 85 and his natural successor, Crown Prince Sultan is 86 (and in poor health), making succession a near-term prospect in the country that holds the key to  Barack Obama's foreign policy agenda. In a portion trimmed for space from my story linked at left, I considered what that might mean for an Obama team that has been working to build a relationship with King Abdullah:

Himself in his mid 70s, Prince Aziz is known for his close ties to the country’s conservative clerics, and for asserting in late 2002 that the 9/11 attacks were the work of Israeli intelligence. In a recent report for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Saudi expert Simon Henderson warns that if Nayef succeeds Abdullah, “the U.S.-Saudi relationship could become even more awkward.”

The problem is compounded by a lack of close personal connections between the Obama team and the Saudi royals, Brennan’s ties notwithstanding. There is no current equivalent to the notorious Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Bush family friend and Saudi ambassador to Washington for much of George W. Bush’s presidency. Bandar, currently the target of massive fraud charges, has disappeared from public view. (“I have not encountered him,” says a senior White House official who deals closely with the country.) “There is no Bandar figure, a go-to guy in Washington,” says Henderson.

Anyone interested in the succession question should check out Henderson's excellent report.