The sudden change in diplomatic fortunes is felt most acutely over Syria, where the increasingly bitter rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran is playing out. For Tehran, Damascus is a bridge for logistical support of Hizbollah, the Shia militia that is its main proxy force in the Middle East; for Riyadh, the Assad regime is a destabilising Iranian outpost that must be removed to counterbalance the pro-Tehran, Shia-dominated government in Iraq.

”For us in Saudi Arabia, the worst scenario is to let Bashar [al-Assad] survive this: he has to go,’’ said Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi analyst close to decision-making circles. “The world can ignore what is happening in Syria but this is at our doorstep and it is on fire with sectarian flames that will reach all neighbouring countries.’’…

With its policy in seeming disarray, some in Saudi decision-making circles question whether those in charge of the Syrian files are up to the complex mission. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the hawkish former ambassador to Washington, has been the intelligence chief for more than a year. While Prince Bandar is in the spotlight, it is his brother, Prince Salman, who is doing the day to day work on Syria.