Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, our attention has been drawn repeatedly to the tumultuous events taking place in various parts of what has become known as the Middle East. The term, which clearly reflects a Eurocentric perspective, was coined at the beginning of the century by the American naval historian Alfred Thayer Mahan to designate the region centering on the Persian Gulf and stretching from Arabia to India. The area originally encompassed by the term reflected Mahan’s particular strategic interest, one that was not necessarily shared by other writers on the history and foreign affairs of that part of the world, who assigned to the term a different content. As a result, there is no consensus regarding the precise delimitation of the territories that are included in the Middle East.
In this work, I consider the Middle East to consist of a core area surrounded by a peripheral region of intrinsic geopolitical and historical importance. The core area is composed of Iran, the Persian Gulf littoral, and the Fertile Crescent. Historian James Breasted coined the latter term early in the twentieth century to describe the arc of territory stretching from the Persian Gulf to Egypt. The crescent arches northward, encompassing the territory between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and circumscribing the perimeter of the Arabian Desert along the coastal region of the eastern Mediterranean, where it finally stretches south to Egypt. The Fertile Crescent thus includes the modern states of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. In the east, the peripheral region includes Afghanistan and Transcaspia as far as the Syr Darya River; in the west, the Aegean and southern Balkan regions; in the north, Turkey, the southern littoral of the Black Sea, and the Caucasus region; and in the south, the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.