As Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) comes under increasing pressure over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, policymakers in Washington and London have one overriding priority: to preserve the House of Saud, a military and economic ally in which they have invested so much. Yet, if Mohammed bin Salman cannot be retained, the UK and US will likely work to ensure some face-saving transfer of power to one of his relatives.
It has already been reported that members of the ruling family have begun discussing the possibility of replacing the crown prince. But there is also a little-known precedent for a Western role in the removal of a Saudi leader.
Promoting a palace coup
Declassified British files show that Britain previously covertly supported a palace coup in Saudi Arabia involving Mohammed bin Salman's forebears in the House of Saud. The coup occurred as long ago as 1964, but has eerie echoes to the present. It helped then Crown Prince Faisal oust his older brother King Saud, who had ruled since 1953 and was backed by the British to preserve the House of Saud.