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 fromArabia 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.