New Delhi: The United States has been presented with a unique opportunity to be even-handed between Sunni-Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. Although this is unlikely to lead to a truce between the two rival Islamic states of West Asia, it would nevertheless initiate a process to bring peace to the troubled region. Israel is the X-factor and should be reined in by the United States.

The unique opportunity for the United States comes in two distinct forms. The first has been initiated by the United States and this is the Iran sanction. While sanctioning a country is always unpleasant, partly Iran is to blame for inviting trouble. If it had adhered to the spirit and not just the letter of Barack Obama’s nuclear deal, it would have refrained from testing ballistic missiles capable of threatening Israel. Its foreign interventions in Syria and Yemen are also unjustified equally as Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia are to blame.

It was expected that Iran sanctions would produce an oil shock but the United States has managed to avert that by making temporary allowances for major Iranian oil importers like India and China. In the absence of supply disruptions and price escalations, there is little to no pressure on the United States to ease the Iran sanctions. Unquestionably, sanctions are beginning to bite Iran. The nominally elected government and the ayatollah-revolutionary guard corps deep state have become unpopular. The stage has still not been reached for regime change but if talks with the United States lead to moderation and the neutralization of threats to Israel, those would be worthy outcomes. This could only come to pass if two conditions are met. Firstly, sanctions must put unrelenting pressure on Teheran to reform. This has started to happen. The second condition is that Saudi Arabia must face equal pressure to moderate, cease foreign interventions, and create conditions for the beginning of a truce with Iran. For this to happen, the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has to go.

It is amply clear that the crown prince ordered the murder of the dissident Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. Because of the White House’s strong links with the crown prince, he has escaped the figurative guillotine so far. But the evidence against him in the Khashoggi murder is damning. He cannot be saved. The more president Donald Trump tries to protect the crown prince, the greater embarrassment it will produce. There is bipartisan consensus in Washington that the crown prince must resign and go into obscurity. He cannot be tried without bringing down the House of Saud and no world power is prepared to go that far. But removing the crown prince will not shake the royal edifice although it will bring much-needed moderation. Here lies the opportunity for the United States.

US sanctions against Iran will acquire enormous credibility and weight if the crown prince is manifestly pressured to go. The crown prince is at the heart of new Iran-Saudi Arabia tensions. The crown prince ordered Saudi intervention in Yemen, he has created the meaningless Qatar crisis, and his rabid hatred for Iran impedes peace in West Asia. By authorizing the slaying of Jamal Khashoggi, the crown prince has proved himself unfit to be the future king of Saudi Arabia. A reasonable, moderate replacement will reduce tensions. With the crown prince gone, public opinion in Iran will likely favour negotiations with the United States to ease sanctions. Israel will act spoiler. It has immorally supported the crown prince in the Khashoggi murder case. Guaranteeing Israel’s security publicly, the United States must direct Israel to keep off Iran-Saudi tensions. Iran is not implacably opposed to the United States. It contributed to the fall of the Taliban government in Afghanistan after 9/11. On the other hand, the leaders and perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks were mostly Saudi.

Editor’s Note: Narendra Modi has lowered the office of prime minister with his indiscriminate attacks on the opposition in assembly election campaigns. Opposition attacks are no justification. The prime minister’s office demands dignity and decorum in all circumstances. In his place, Atal Behari Vajpayee would have carried himself with grace and won public sympathy. Modi, on the other hand, has dragged his office to the gutters.